Monday, 23 March 2009

On the sea shore

For Ada Lovelace Day...

Mary Anning was, for a long time, an unsung heroine of palaeontology. She lived in early 19th Century Lyme Regis, Dorset, on England's fossil-rich South coast. Her parents were poor, and her father supplemented his income making furniture by collecting and sellng fossils. There was a small tourist trade in fossils at the time, and Mary and her brother took to the beaches to help their father.

The fact that seven of Mary's brothers and sisters did not live past early infancy allows some insight into the circumstances of the time, and Mary was only eleven when her father died, leaving the family in even more desparate circumstances.

While Mary would have been selling her early finds to tourists, the science of palaeontology was by now beginning to find its feet. Fossil enthusiasts began to seek out fossil hunters to quickly expand their collections and understanding of their importance. It wasn't long before Mary was supplying these budding palaeontologists with material and they began to provide her with a steadier income.

Mary made some very significant finds, including the first complete ichthyosaur skeleton, a plesiosaur and even a pterosaur. Her family recieved a welcome financial hand from one of her customers, who sold his collection to help support Mary's work. It wasn't until much later in life that she began to recievemore official recognition for her discoveries. She was awarded regular funding for her contributions to science and, just before her death in 1847, was granted honourary membership of the Geological Society. Honourary only, as she was a woman.

The famous tongue twister 'She sells sea shells...' is thought to be about her.


Canadian Tourism said...

We've put together a quick, informative video about the Joggins Fossil Cliffs in Nova Scotia where you can learn about their significance to Darwin's Theory of Evolution.

It's worth a look!

Matt Dale said...

Thanks - I will have a look.