The Latymer School History Magazine - page 11

As a younger child my
parents always took me to
the coast of Lyme Regis in
Dorset to visit my aunt and
spend some time on the
beach. However, unlike my
mother, I rarely went
swimming or sunbathing -
instead I passed the time
fossil hunting. The slowly
eroding cliffs often
uncovered incredible fossils
that had been trapped there
for thousands of years.
However, in winter the cliff
face was prone to split and
fall; sometimes killing fossil
hunters below. But nobody
knew about these hidden
treasures in the cliffs until
one woman found some
fossils that challenged the
current theories of the
history of our planet. Mary
Anning, dedicated her life to
uncovering the fossilised
prehistoric animals, trapped
within the cliffs. Her
commitment and passion led
her to influence the history
and future of science but she
never fully received the full
credit she deserved.
Mary had quite a difficult
childhood. Her family was
very poor and she couldn’t
afford an education except
from the occasional
attendance to a Sunday
school to learn the basics of
reading and writing.
However, in the 18
th
century
Lyme Regens became a
popular holiday destination.
Mary and her family made
money off selling
miscellaneous things; in
particular fossils. Her father
Richard took her brother and
herself hunting for fossils to
sell on a table in front of their
house. Her father had been
suffering from tuberculosis
and injuries he suffered from
a fall off a cliff. When he died
in November 1810 (aged 44)
he left his family in great
debt and with no savings.
Mary’s family had no choice
but to continue collecting
and selling fossils. Their first
major find was in 1811 when
Mary was 12. Her brother
joseph had dug up a 4-foot
ichthyosaur skull (Mary found
the rest of the skeleton a few
months later) and sold it for
£23. Eventually it landed in
the hands of William Bullock,
a well-known collector who
displayed it in London. The
reason why it was so
significant was because at
the time most people
believed in the Biblical
account of creation,
suggesting the world was
only a few thousand years
old but the fossil raised
questions and caused
significant controversy about
the history of living things
and the Earth itself.
This was one of the main
discoveries which helped
build Anning’s reputation in
the community. One of the
family's keenest customers,
Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas
James Birch, was disturbed
by their poverty and held an
auction to raise money for
them. The auction was held
at Bullocks in London on 15
May 1820, and raised £400
(worth the equivalent of over
£26,000 in 2010) which
helped the family massively
and allowed them to live
without financial difficulties.
As she grew older she
decided to support herself
by continuing to find and sell
fossils despite the dangers
the cliffs posed. The risks of
her profession were
illustrated when on October
1833 she barely avoided
being killed by a landslide
that buried her black-and-
white terrier, Tray, her
constant companion when
she went collecting.
Mary’s biggest and best
discovery was in 1820 when
she found a new type of
marine reptile which was
later named Plesiosaurus. In
1823 she discovered an even
more complete plesiosaur
skeleton. However, despite
both of her incredible
discoveries she was not
given any credit. When a
collector William Conybeare
presented his analysis on the
newly discovered creature he
didn’t give any credit to Mary
or even mention her name.
This event truly represented
how little women were able
to do in the period. The
Geological Society of
London did not allow women
to become members or even
attend meetings as guests
despite Mary knowing more
about fossils and geology
than most of the wealthy,
male collectors that bought
her fossils and often
published papers without
given her the slightest bit of
credit.
She died on the 9
th
of March
1847 to breast cancer.
Her discoveries became key
part of evidence for
extinction: as until the early
1820s it was still believed
that extinction could not be
possible as it would imply
God’s creations had been
imperfect. Marie’s
discoveries like the
Plesiosaur raised questions
about life on earth but she
didn’t get any recognition for
it, until almost 150 years after
her death
As time passed her efforts
and discoveries slowly
became noticed. The Natural
History museum added her
alongside some of the
world’s most influential
scientists. A historical novel
entitled “Remarkable
Creatures” was published
based around her life, and
she was included in a list of
the ten British women who
have influenced the history
of science by the Royal
Society and even Google
decided to acknowledge her
by creating a “doodle” of her
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