Skip to content


The Leakey Foundation honors excellence in the science and communication of human origins through three prestigious awards. The Leakey Prize and the Gordon P. Getty Award recognize multidisciplinary contributions to the study of human evolution. Additionally, The Leakey Foundation and the American Association of Biological Anthropologists present the Communication and Outreach Award in Honor of Camilla M. Smith annually. This award celebrates exceptional public communication and educational outreach in biological anthropology. These awards highlight and support the groundbreaking work and public engagement efforts within the scientific community.

The Leakey Prize

Each Leakey Prize recipient is selected for achievements that transcend the boundaries of their discipline and link widely differing branches of science. The Leakey Prize also rewards multi-disciplinary science and research of broad interest and ingenuity.  

The SF Gate newspaper called the prize “the nation’s most prestigious award in human evolutionary science.” Winners are recognized for their contributions to science with a $25,000 award and a commemorative prize trophy created by sculptor and ceramicist Alice Corning.

Leakey Prize Recipients

Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE
2008 Leakey Prize Laureate

Dr. Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace, is a renowned ethologist and activist known for her groundbreaking studies of wild chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park, the longest-running wild chimpanzee study in the world. At 26, under the mentorship of paleoanthropologist Dr. Louis Leakey, she began her landmark research in Gombe, Tanzania, where she observed chimpanzees making and using tools, redefining our understanding of human-animal relationships. Her work builds on innovative science, focusing on advocacy through the Jane Goodall Institute, founded in 1977. The Institute’s Tacare approach empowers local communities in sustainable development and conservation, while the Roots & Shoots program supports youth-led positive change in over 60 countries.

Link to the Jane Goodall Institute

Dr. Toshisada Nishida
2008 Leakey Prize Laureate

Dr. Toshisada Nishida (1941-2011) was a pioneering primatologist celebrated for his extensive research on wild chimpanzees in the Mahale Mountains National Park, Tanzania. Nishida began his landmark studies in 1965, establishing one of the longest continuous chimpanzee field studies. His meticulous observations revealed the fission-fusion dynamics of chimpanzee societies and documented unique behaviors such as tool use, female dispersal, and medicinal plant use. Nishida’s work has advanced our understanding of primate behavior, making him a cornerstone in the field of primatology. He served as the President of the International Primatological Society and received numerous accolades, including the Leakey Prize and the International Primatological Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award. His dedication to scientific research and conservation led to the establishment of the Mahale Forest National Park and the Mahale Wildlife Conservation Society. Dr. Nishida’s contributions have not only enriched primatology but have also fostered wildlife conservation efforts.

Link to memorial by Frans de Waal

Dr. Richard Hay
2001 Leakey Prize Laureate

Dr. Richard Hay (1926–2006) was an American geologist most famous for providing the definitive geological framework for Olduvai Gorge and Laetoli, two important fossil sites in East Africa. He was the principal geologist who collaborated with Mary Leakey. His research provided context and vital insights into the environments of early hominins. His scientific impacts went far beyond the study of human origins, including fundamental contributions to our understanding of the interactions of water, minerals, and organisms near the Earth’s surface. In his Leakey Prize acceptance speech, Hay said, “My acquaintance with Olduvai began in 1961 with a look at rock samples, which my colleague Garniss Curtis brought back for K-Ar dating… I was quick to accept an opportunity to go there in 1962. The main purpose was to work on the stratigraphy of Bed I and resolve some of the controversy over the age of Zinjanthropus, who had been given the almost unbelievable age of 1.75 million years. The stratigraphy of the gorge quickly proved to be an irresistible puzzle. I love puzzles, and this one took me 12 years to get most of the pieces in the right places. The zeolites were great fun and developed into a nice line of evidence about the paleoclimate.”

Link to Geological Society Memorial
Link to Dr. Hay’s papers in the Smithsonian Virtual Archives

Dr. Garniss Curtis
2001 Leakey Prize Laureate

Dr. Garniss Curtis (1919-2012) was a geologist and geochronologist best known for collaborating on the development of potassium-argon dating. With Jack Evernden and John Reynolds, Curtis pioneered the use of the potassium–argon (K-Ar) dating method and initiated its application to many hominid and hominoid sites. Recognizing that the steady decay of radioactive potassium to argon in volcanic materials could be measured to date eruptions with minimal error, Curtis transformed the ability to accurately date fossil-bearing units. This method was applicable to minerals common in these units and worked on younger rocks, enabling precise dating of the human fossil record.

“Garniss was the first to show that you could date things younger than a couple of million years, and he teamed up with the Leakeys to date their finds in Olduvai Gorge in Kenya,” said Curtis’s former student Paul Renne, now director of the Berkeley Geochronology Center (BGC), which Curtis founded. “His major contribution was putting numbers on the timescale of human evolution.”

Dr. F. Clark Howell
1998 Leakey Prize Laureate

Dr. F. Clark Howell (1925–2007) was a renowned paleoanthropologist known for his comprehensive approach to human evolution. Howell, known as Clark to his many colleagues and friends, “became the leading authority on the human fossil record shortly after he received a PhD from the University of Chicago in 1953, and he remained so until his death.” Dr. Richard Klein, a colleague and Leakey Foundation Scientific Executive Committee Member, noted, “Clark’s genius was two-fold. First, and almost uniquely in the 1950s, he recognized that a compelling reconstruction of human evolution required a detailed knowledge not just of the fossils, but also of their paleoenvironmental, geochronologic, and archaeological context. At the time, the composite of these fields had no name, and Clark was probably the first to popularize it as ‘paleoanthropology.’ His second and equally enviable talent was his ability to scrutinize the human evolutionary record for gaps that fresh fieldwork could resolve and then to seek sites that could fill the gaps.”

Howell founded the Human Evolution Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. His many contributions to research and fieldwork earned him numerous accolades, including election to the National Academy of Sciences. In 1968, Howell co-founded The Leakey Foundation and helped create the foundation’s multidisciplinary funding approach, leaving a lasting legacy in paleoanthropology.

Biography of F. Clark Howell
F. Clark Howell Legacy Society

Dr. Phillip Vallentine Tobias
1991 Leakey Prize Laureate

Dr. Phillip Tobias (1925-2012) was a renowned South African palaeoanthropologist and Professor Emeritus at the University of the Witwatersrand, best known for his foundational research on fossil hominins. He led excavations at Sterkfontein Cave in South Africa for more than 50 years and also led the efforts that resulted in the site becoming a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. He worked with Mary and Louis Leakey at Olduvai Gorge and described the species Homo habilis with Louis Leakey and John Napier in 1964. 

Tobias published more than 1,000 scholarly articles and authored or coauthored 33 books during his long career. In addition to the Leakey Prize, he received honors and awards from several universities and was nominated for the Nobel Prize three times. He was also an anti-apartheid activist who worked from within academia and in the public to end the unjust policies of apartheid in South Africa. He wrote in a letter to colleagues, “How happy I am to have lived to see the end of statutory racism, discrimination, and segregation and the other evils of the apartheid era.” 

Communication and Outreach Award

The American Association of Biological Anthropologists (AABA) and Leakey Foundation Communication and Outreach Award in Honor of Camilla M. Smith is awarded annually to recognize outstanding public communication and educational outreach efforts in the field of biological anthropology.

The award was first given in 2020 to recognize the importance and urgency of promoting scientific literacy, clarity of message, and efforts to foster respect and understanding for the variation, adaptation, and evolution of human beings and their living and fossil relatives. It was renamed in 2021 in honor of former Leakey Foundation President, Camilla M. Smith.

Recipients participate in a Leakey Foundation public outreach program and are presented with a commemorative plaque at the AABA Annual Meeting.

If you wish to nominate someone for this award, please click here.

About Camilla Smith

Camilla Smith is a community volunteer who focuses on education and science. Inspired by a passion for understanding what makes us human, she joined The Leakey Foundation’s Board of Trustees in 2004 and served as president from 2015-2021. Mrs. Smith also serves on the boards of the National Public Radio Foundation, the Public Broadcasting System Foundation, Teachers College at Columbia University, University of California Berkeley Foundation, UC Berkeley Bancroft Special Collections Library, San Francisco State University Foundation, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Science Friday, NOVA Science Visiting Council, and the Interfaith Center at the Presidio.

An accomplished writer and editor, she has worked at G.P. Putnam’s Sons publishers, Columbia University’s Teachers College Press, the New York City Board of Education, and the Japanese American Citizens League. She earned a Bachelor’s degree at Brigham Young University and a Master’s degree at Columbia University Teachers College.

Award Recipients

Dr. Tina Lasisi

Tina Lasisi, University of Michigan

Dr. Lasisi’s public outreach includes human variation, adaptation, and evolution, and she reaches a wide range of audiences. As described by her nomination, “Her work exemplifies many best practices for science communication and engagement– including clarity, empathy, and presenting science as a process of generating knowledge, rather than a set of facts. Her work is also distinctive in its embrace of emerging media platforms, to better connect with younger and more diverse audiences about science and its impacts on society.”

Watch her Leakey Foundation talk.

Cara Ocobock, University of Notre Dame

Dr. Ocobock’s research integrates human biology and anthropology, with a focus on the interaction between anatomy, physiology, evolution, and the environment. She explores the physiological and behavioral mechanisms necessary to cope with and adapt to extreme climate and physical activity. As described in her nomination, “Collectively, Dr. Ocobock’s activities promote scientific literacy in clear, relevant, and engaging ways, and support our field’s efforts to foster respect and understanding for the variation, adaptation, and evolution of human beings and their living and fossil relatives.”

Watch her on Lunch Break Science.

Katie Hinde, Arizona State University

Dr. Hinde’s ability to generate interest in biological anthropology and related fields is remarkable, reflecting her expertise and breadth across numerous academic fields. Her nomination notes that “All of Dr. Hinde’s work in science communication is a master class in how to talk to the public about science in a way that is engaging, fun, informative, and transformative.”

Watch her Leakey Foundation talk for educators.

Briana Pobiner, Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Dr. Briana Pobiner is a paleoanthropologist whose research centers on the evolution of the human diet, but has included topics as diverse as human cannibalism and chimpanzee carnivory. She has done fieldwork in Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, and Indonesia, and has been supported in her research by the Fulbright-Hays program, The Leakey Foundation, the National Geographic Society, the National Science Foundation, Rutgers University, the Society for American Archaeology, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation. Since joining the Smithsonian in 2005 to help put together the Hall of Human Origins, in addition to continuing her active field, laboratory, and experimental research programs, she leads the Human Origins Program’s education and outreach efforts, which include managing the Human Origins Program’s public programs, website content, social media, and exhibition volunteer training. Briana has more recently developed a research program in evolution education and science communication and is also an Associate Research Professor of Anthropology in the Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology at the George Washington University.

Watch her Leakey Foundation talk for educators.

Agustín Fuentes, University of Notre Dame

Dr. Fuentes’ research centers on the question of what it means to be human, and he has made significant academic contributions to basic primatology as well as larger integrative questions focusing on creativity and community in human evolution, multispecies relationships, and engaging with race and racism. He is also an active public scientist. He has published a number of popular books, is an active blogger, an enthusiastic participant in public science events, and regularly appears in the broader media as an advocate for the significance of our discipline.

Watch his Leakey Foundation Darwin Day presentation.

The Gordon P. Getty Award

The Gordon P. Getty Award was created in 2013 to honor and celebrate Mr. Getty’s 40 years of leadership and his significant contributions to science as Chairman of The Leakey Foundation’s board of trustees.

The Leakey Foundation believes that no other person can be credited for increasing scientific knowledge, education, and public understanding of human origins more significantly than Mr. Getty. 

The Gordon P. Getty Award is given to an individual who shows extraordinary originality and dedication in their intellectual and professional pursuits while exemplifying a multidisciplinary approach to human origins research.

Read more about the Getty Award Laureates in short profiles by Evan Hadingham:

Gordon P. Getty Award Laureates

Dr. Anna K. Behrensmeyer, Smithsonian Institution

Kay Behrensmeyer is a Research Curator and Senior Scientist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, where, for over four decades, she has investigated the interconnections between ecosystems, earth processes, and evolution across different time spans. She received a doctorate in geology and paleontology from Harvard in 1973. Soon afterward, she began her foundational research on taphonomy—the science of how the remains of living creatures are transformed into the fossil record. At Amboseli National Park, Kenya, Behrensmeyer systematically studied how carcasses get scattered, trampled, or buried, and how different bone sizes, varying soil conditions, and other environmental factors can affect the preservation of animal remains. Her research at Amboseli, which still continues today, has revealed how fossils can be faithful recorders of past life but are also potential sources of bias that affect scientific interpretation. Her work demonstrates, for example, that faunal evidence may be an inaccurate picture of the numbers of species actually present, a conclusion that has crucial implications for studying human evolution. 

Dr. Behrensmeyer’s Gordon P. Getty Award funding will allow her to assemble important taphonomic reference collections at both the Smithsonian and the National Museums of Kenya. These collections will help future researchers study taphonomy and will enhance the value of both museums’ collections while contributing to the understanding of human evolution.

Dr. Carol Ward, University of Missouri

Anatomist and paleoanthropologist Carol Ward of the University of Missouri is an expert in analyzing how the fossil bones of our early ancestors can give clues to their muscular anatomy and biomechanical capabilities. In 2010, Ward co-founded the West Turkana Paleo Project, an international fieldwork program organized with the National Museums of Kenya to search for ancestral human fossils and evidence of ancient environments. The WTPP’s long list of discoveries includes the earliest fossil bones of hominin hands essentially identical to our own, dating to 1.42 million years ago, at the site of Kaitio, Kenya. 

Reconstructing the anatomy and functioning of fossil hands and feet is a special focus of Ward’s current research. For this challenging task, her team is producing the first virtual 3D anatomical atlas of the hands and feet of a chimpanzee, gorilla, and modern human; the atlas will be a significant contribution to understanding the evolution of these distinctive extremities. As the most recent recipient of a Getty Award, Ward writes that it is “especially meaningful because my first grant was from The Leakey Foundation, so they effectively set me on the course that has gotten me here today. The same is true for the majority of my colleagues, which is a testament to the foundation and Mr. Getty’s role in making possible much of the research that has shaped our understanding of human evolution for over half a century.”

Dr. Liran Samuni, Harvard University

A postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, Liran Samuni’s research focuses on intergroup relationships and cultural behavior among chimpanzees and bonobos.  She is currently investigating an intriguing case of tool use by chimpanzees in Moyen-Bafing National Park in Guinea, West Africa, where they use long sticks to gather algae from streams by poking and twirling them in the water, like the action of a cotton candy vendor. Previously, Samuni spent four years observing bonobo behavior at the Kokolopri Bonobo Research Project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where she discovered that two different groups had distinct cultural preferences for the choice of animals they hunted for meat, despite living close together in the forest. Understanding how chimpanzees and bonobos acquire such special behaviors offers, Samuni says, “an ideal context to explore the evolutionary pathway of human material culture.” The Leakey Foundation’s support has been essential for the long-term observations that are the foundation of her work. “It is a great honor to receive the award in Mr. Getty’s name, recognizing his significant contributions to our field,” Samuni says. “Working with wild apes to explore my research passions is a privilege. The award has opened up new avenues for me to advance as a scientist and to share my research with a wide audience.”

Dr. Richard Kay, Duke University

Throughout his influential career, Richard Kay has pursued a broad multidisciplinary path to studying the past. During the 1970s, Kay spent two years in a Harvard lab observing how monkeys crush, shear, and grind different types of food. Then he began an exhaustive microscopic study of how the tooth shapes of living primates reflect the kinds of foods they consume; his aim was to apply that knowledge to fossil teeth and reconstruct the diets of extinct species. The method Kay developed, paleobiologist Peter S. Ungar notes, “quickly became the standard for measuring teeth in paleontology laboratories the world over, and it’s still used widely today.” Across four decades, Kay has discovered many extinct South American primate species and his research has been fundamental to understanding the origins and evolution of primates. Without The Leakey Foundation to support his interdisciplinary approach, Kay says, “I am not sure that I could have done what I’ve done so far without their help. Their funds allowed me to explore and generate projects that applied information based on the study of living animals to reconstruct the behavior of extinct ones. Their funding has been critical, not just for me, but for the field as a whole.”

Dr. Yohannes Haile-Selassie, Arizona State University

Yohannes Haile-Selassie is the director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University. He is one of the foremost experts in paleoanthropology, known for major fossil discoveries in Ethiopia’s Rift Valley. At the Woranso-Mille site near Hadar, his team found remains of Australopithecus afarensis, Lucy’s species, co-existing with at least two other types of early hominins. In 2019, Haile-Selassie announced an even more dramatic discovery at Woranso-Mille—the nearly complete skull of yet another species, Australopithecus anamensis—significantly enriching our understanding of early hominin diversity in the Afar region. Haile-Selassie is a co-founder of the African Rift Valley Research Consortium, a far-reaching interdisciplinary project conducting large-scale research on fundamental questions of geology, ecology, and hominin evolution in a rift setting. “Receiving an award named after Gordon Getty,” he says, “made me think that hard work pays off. It made me feel that I can now see myself as exemplary to the next generation of African scholars who are being supported by The Leakey Foundation to thrive and succeed in their intellectual and professional pursuits.” 

Dr. Susan Perry, University of California, Los Angeles

For over 25 years, Susan Perry has led the Lomas Barbudal Monkey Project, revealing extraordinary cultural behaviors among Costa Rica’s capuchin monkeys. With sustained support from The Leakey Foundation, Perry’s research has corrected early misconceptions and explored the complex depths of capuchin social dynamics. For example, during her first two years of fieldwork, it looked as if all male juvenile and adult capuchins shared equal mating privileges. Then came a shock: genetic paternity evidence showed that a single alpha male fathered over 90% of the group’s offspring. Long-term observations have also been crucial for revealing behaviors that are passed down among different groups. The strangest of these are trance-like sessions in which pairs of capuchins lock one another in sometimes painful embraces, testing each other’s patience and trust; in one case, a monkey slips its finger between the eyelid and the eyeball of its partner for minutes at a time. “Often the most exciting discoveries emerge unexpectedly from long-term data collection,” Perry notes. “None of this would be possible without Gordon Getty’s tireless financial and intellectual support of The Leakey Foundation’s mission.”

Dr. Fredrick Manthi, National Museums of Kenya

Fredrick Manthi is a paleontologist and director of antiquities, sites, and monuments at the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi. Manthi’s interest in human origins was kindled as a child by the books on prehistory brought home by his father, who worked with Mary Leakey at Olduvai Gorge during the 1970s. Two Leakey Foundation Baldwin Fellowships enabled Manthi to earn his undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. He co-founded the West Turkana Paleo Project and has notably specialized in studying small rodent fossils, critical indicators of ancient environmental changes. In a landmark discovery in West Turkana in 2000, Manthi unearthed the braincase of a 1.55-million-year-old Homo erectus along with the jawbone of a later Homo habilis. These finds upended traditional theories by suggesting that the two species had co-existed for nearly half a million years, rather than evolving in a linear fashion. Support from The Leakey Foundation, he says, “helped shape my career as a paleontologist, and has enabled work that has made a significant contribution to understanding the evolutionary history of hominin and non-hominin species, and the environmental contexts in which this happened. Further, this support has motivated me to push for the training of more Africans in the paleosciences.”

Dr. Margaret Crofoot, Konstanz University

Behavioral ecologist Margaret Crofoot employs cutting-edge remote sensing technology to study wild primates. Crofoot is particularly drawn to the question of how primates overcome individual conflicts of interest to make group decisions. At Kenya’s Mpala Research Center, her team outfitted 25 olive baboons with GPS collars and accelerometers to record the movements of each animal over a month. What she found was surprising. Despite baboons’ hierarchical, top-down social order, no single animal dictates where the baboon troop forages for food. Instead, the baboons tend to follow wherever the majority is headed, a strategy that may help safeguard them against predators like leopards. Crofoot has also investigated stone tool use by capuchin monkeys in Panama and is currently participating in ICARUS, an international project tracking animals from the ultimate observing platform: space. A satellite-based system, ICARUS picks up GPS signals from individual animals, allowing scientists to monitor wildlife movements over vast regions. Crofoot plans to use ICARUS to track the behavior of hundreds of animals in multiple baboon troops simultaneously.  

Dr. Clara Scarry, Sacramento State University

Clara Scarry specializes in long-term studies of the social behavior of primates in Ecuador, Argentina, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A bioanthropologist, Scarry’s fascination with primates started at age six when she discovered Jane Goodall’s book My Life With Chimpanzees; “I read it and I was set, it put me on my path.” she says. Today, Scarry’s research focuses on understanding the evolution of cooperation. To do this, she has established a long-term field study of capuchin monkeys in Argentina’s Parque Nacional Iguazú. Her research examines the connections between intergroup aggression, intragroup relationships, and individual decision-making. Her work offers valuable insights into the complex processes that underlie primate behavior.

Dr. Thure Cerling, University of Utah 

Over five decades, geophysicist and geologist Thure Cerling has explored subjects as diverse as elephant conservation, the age of the Grand Canyon, and the evolution of monsoons. However, the heart of his work lies in understanding the environments of East Africa that were the setting for pivotal steps in human evolution. Cerling’s doctoral research analyzed the chemistry of modern Rift Valley lakes to help reconstruct the formation of ancient lakes. In the 1970s, he collaborated with geologist Frank Brown to establish a timeline for the volcanic rock and ash layers at Olduvai Gorge and the Turkana Basin, vital for establishing the age of the hominin fossils found there by the Leakeys. He later innovated the use of isotopes in tooth enamel to study past and present diets of humans and animals. “The questions we ask about human evolution prompt studies of modern ecology,” he says,  “and the answers we learn from modern ecology can then be used to answer the original question. The Leakey Foundation provides critical support for bridging the different disciplines of science to learn about human evolution.”

Dr. Sileshi Semaw, CENIEH

Sileshi Semaw has dedicated nearly three decades to investigating stone toolmaking sites in the rugged badlands of Gona near Hadar, Ethiopia. Dating to 2.6 million years ago, some of the stone tool finds from Gona are associated with animal bones bearing cut marks, among the earliest evidence for processing meat. The Gona researchers, co-directed by Sileshi Semaw and Michael Rogers, concluded that the toolmakers had carefully selected high-quality volcanic cobbles and struck them into sharp-edged flakes with considerable skill. Continuing support from Gordon Getty and The Leakey Foundation has recently enabled Semaw’s team to expand its efforts beyond the area of its early discoveries. Semaw says, “We have discovered fossil hominins and archaeological materials from key time intervals in human evolution dating as far back as six million years ago, and as far forward as the early Holocene, confirming that Gona is one of the few places in the world where the entire evolutionary history of our ancestors can be investigated. Put simply, the Gona team owes much of our success to the generous and continuous support of Gordon Getty and The Leakey Foundation.”

I [name], of [city, state ZIP], bequeath the sum of $[ ] or [ ] percent of my estate to L.S.B. Leakey Foundation for Research Related to Man’s Origins, Behavior & Survival, (dba The Leakey Foundation), a nonprofit organization with a business address of 1003B O’Reilly Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94129 and a tax identification number 95-2536475 for its unrestricted use and purpose.

If you have questions, please contact Sharal Camisa Smith sharal at 

This will close in 0 seconds