Another huge interest for me, besides giving women their rightful dues, are fossils and those who search for them. Here is one I’ve been investigating, although I have not seen Ammonite, it is on my list to watch even though it is mostly a fabricated “friendship” between Mary and Charlotte Murchison. The important part of her story is depicted, especially where her legacy was born.
This follows the same old line of men taking credit for women’s inventions. In this case, it was out of necessity to earn a living and Mary was in the right place and at the right time when her father died while she was yet a child of eleven.
During the economic recession of the 1810s, when food was scarce and Napoleon was stoking war across Europe, the Anning family depended on public assistance to supplement their meager income. Anning had largely taught herself how to read as a child but constrained by her lack of formal education and the Victorian era’s pervasive misogyny, she continued the hard and dangerous work of searching for fossils. The family had a benefactor in a professional fossil collector named Thomas Birch who decided to sell his collection in order to bail them out. It was a show of faith in the Anning siblings, who had already impressed so many members of the scientific establishment by finding the first Ichthyosaurus — an extinct marine reptile — to be recognized by the London Geological Society. In 1819, the fossil went on display at the British Museum in London.
Anning’s discoveries became the stuff of legend — even if her name remained obscured!
Just as she taught herself to read, Anning educated herself on how experts excavated and prepared fossils, read up on cutting edge scientific theories of her time and became well-known amongst other scientists. The cliffs on Lyme Regis proved to be a perfect place for her work, as they are part of what ultimately became known as England’s Jurassic Coast due to its plentiful collection of prehistoric creatures.
Despite the renown of her discoveries, Anning was often forced to stand in the shadows, away from the spotlight given to the fossils. As a woman, she was not readily accepted into the male-dominated scientific community, including the Geological Society of London. Additionally, because so many of her findings were ultimately sold to collectors, she wasn’t credited with so many of the fossils she discovered.
Louis Agassiz honored Anning by crediting her with two fish species; the Acrodus anningiae and the Belenostomus anningiae in 1841 and 1844 respectively.
She was credited for the discoveries of Anningia (reptile genus), Anningella (mollusc), Anningasaura (plesiosaur), and Ichthyosaurus anningae. (3)(Those genus and species were named after her in order to honor her achievements. She is not credited for the discoveries, however).
In 1902, the Lyme Regis Museum was built in the site of Mary Anning’s home. It has a plaque dedicated to her and encourages many tourists to walk the beach following her footsteps to hunt for fossils. In 2017, the museum built a new wing dedicated to Anning.
The Royal Society, in 2010, named Anning amongst 10 British women to have played an influential role in the history of science; 200 years after her discoveries.
Her life has inspired several books and movies, some of them being: 1925 book (4 )‘The Heroine of Lyme Regis : The Story of Mary Anning the Celebrated Geologist’, and the new movie ‘Ammonite’ casting Saoirse Ronan and Kate Winslet. It is believed that Terry Sullivan’s 1908 song about ‘She sells seashells’ was based on Anning.
She found a way and was raised from the ashes of those who benefitted by her discoveries. This is why these stories live on…..thank you to all those who continue looking for them. It is why we all need to keep open minds. New discoveries are uncovering ancient truths. Women are the phoenix’s rising from the buried ashes and why I tell their stories.
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