In the world of fossils, there's one woman whose discoveries
of Jurassic marine fossils changed the way science viewed
the prehistoric world. Mary Anning was born on May 21, 1799
and became world renowned for her work in Dorset, a county
in Southwest England where she lived.
When Mary was just twelve years old, she and her brother,
Joseph discovered the first identifiable ichthyosaur skeleton.
From there, her discoveries only continued to grow, and she
was responsible for the findings of several fossils that had
never been seen previously.
She found the first two plesiosaur skeletons, the first pterosaur
skeleton outside an area in Germany, and a variety of fish
fossils. She discovered that certain prehistoric creatures
were similar to modern day cephalopods, due to her finding
fossilized ink sacs.
In 1833 she nearly lost her life searching for fossils in
Dorset's Blue Lias cliffs area, which was prone to landslides
during the winter. These landslides helped make her work a
little easier, as they helped bring new fossils to the surface.
However the risk involved was great, and she narrowly avoided
death during one such landslide that ended up killing her
Mary came from a lifetime of hardship. Her father was a cabinetmaker,
and her mother was constantly grieving the death of her children.
In total, the Anning family had ten children, but only Mary
and Joseph survived childhood.
In fact, Mary was actually named for her sister, Mary, who
passed away at the age of four, when her clothes caught fire
from nearby wood shavings. Mary was raised during a time when
food shortages were common, as the price of wheat had tripled
during the Napoleonic and French Revolutionary Wars.
Mary Anning with Fossils
Also, the Anning family were known dissenters, which means
they didn't follow the Church of England, and could actually
be subjected to persecution. Mary's work in fossil discovery
didn't help, as it was a time in England where the majority
believed in the Bible's story of creation. Yet Mary's work
raised questions about the age of the Earth, and the history
of life therein.
It would seem natural that Mary's discoveries should have
skyrocketed her to fame amongst the science community, but
instead, due to her social status and the fact that she was
a woman, she was prevented from becoming an active member
of the science community.
She was eligible to join the Geological Society of London,
and often times she didn't receive full credit for her work.
However, she was well known in the geological community across
Britain, Europe, and America, and was often consulted about
different areas of geology.
The only piece of her work that was ever published was an
excerpt, from a letter Anning had written to the editor of
the Magazine of Natural History, in which she disputed the
claims made within one of the magazine's articles. Anning's
work has since been celebrated in various ways, including
a special Google doodle on her 215th birthday.