Name ID 1247
In the general rush to handle the fossils there was one person who hung back: an owl-eyed young man with thick glasses, lank blond hair and a White lab coat, who stood off to one side. I attributed that to shyness. I found out that the young man was an American who had worked at Koobi Fora for a couple of seasons as a paleontologist for Richard Leakey and who was now working for Richard's mother. His name was Tim White.
Not long ago I reminded Tim of that day. 'You were lurking in a corner as if you were too timid-to come out. Do you remember? I went over and introduced myself and we got talking.' 'I wasn't timid, for God's sake. I was just being sensibly cautious. Here you were, the smooth young hotshot, shooting off your mouth about all your great fossils. I'd never met you before. I didn't know if you could tell a hippo rib from a rhino tail. I was just waiting for you to fall on your face, say something really dumb.'
That brought a cackle from Owen Lovejoy, who was listening to the conversation. 'Tim's a show-rne man,' I explained. 'The original prickly, stubborn, I-won't-believe-it-until-you-can-prove-it-withfossils type. He'll argue with anybody about anything.' 'Don's a nail-polish salesman, a real operator. I felt I had to watch him. Also, he was buying all that guff about Homo at three million that the Leakeys were dishing out.' He turned to me. 'You were, you know. '
I wasn't buying it, ' I said. 1 was thinking it. In the context of what we knew at the time, it made sense to think it.'
It made sense if you swallowed a lot of junk about dates, and didn't bother to look at primitive dental features. It made sense if you were careless and naive.' 'Me careless? Naive?' 'Yeah, both.'
For all White's suspicions about me as a fly-boy at that first meeting in Nairobi, and for all my misinterpretation as shyness of what was actually an uncompromisingly cold approach to science, coupled with an idealism about it that made it hard for Tim truly to admire more than one or two people in the field, we got on well from the beginning. Tim discussed some of the fossils Mary Leakey was beginning to find at Laetoli. Finally he stepped forward to examine the Hadar specimens. After looking at them he said something that I will never forget: 1 think your fossils from Hadar and Mary's fossils from Laetoli may be the same.' He showed me a couple of them. They seemed nearly identical.
That was a stunner. The two places were a thousand miles apart. Provisional dating of the Laetoli specimens gave them an age of 3.7 million years. That was three-quarters of a million years older than the 3.0 million assigned to the Hadar basalt by Aronson, Granted, he had cautioned that the basalt might be older. But Basil Cooke's pig evidence that might confirm an older date was three years in the future.
Were the Hadar and Laetoli fossils one species? How on earth was that to be dealt with?
Tim and I agreed to keep in touch.