I’m off on an adventure to walk in the footsteps of paleontologist, Mary Anning. In case
you’ve been sleeping under a fossil and haven’t heard of this remarkable woman, let me introduce you.
Mary was born into a poor, and I mean dirt-poor family in 1799. How poor were they? Living next to the jail poor. And in Lyme Regis, England, that also meant living in a house that tended to get flooded every other year. But hey – sometimes they had a place to sleep! Mary’s dad was trained as a carpenter, but got bit by the treasure hunting bug. And by treasures I mean fossils. The cliffs along Lyme Regis are littered with the bones of ancient fish, ammonites, and crinoids. And the tourists who came to take the waters were fascinated with these strange rocks. Mr. Anning saw a business opportunity and became a souvenir seller with Mary as his assistant.
By the time Mary was twelve years old she had discovered an entire ichthyosaurus skeleton… (I would have died of happiness to find a dinosaur anything when I was twelve. ) and was becoming a self-taught expert on anatomy and illustration. During her lifetime Anning is credited with discovering a plesiosaurus, a pterosaur, a Squaloraja polyspondyla (fossilized fish) and too many belemnites and coprolites to count.
Sadly, Mary had the unfortunate problem of being born with an x chromosome, and in the 1800s women were not supposed to read the newspaper let alone understand and develop complex scientific theories. So while the male scientists of the day came to Lyme Regis to consult with the woman who understood fossils, Mary received no academic or historical credit for her work or discoveries.
History needs to remember Mary Anning! And by that I mean her story needs to be told. My good friend, Linda Skeers, has written an incredible picture book that tells Mary’s Story. I highly recommend Dinosaur Lady for readers of all ages! Go out and buy it. As a matter of fact buy one for your self and several to give to the young girls in your life.
And if you want to know more about the Amazing Miss Mary, follow along on my adventure. I’ll be posting pictures of Mary’s fossils and the place where she lived. Lyme Regis here I come!! And next summer – Chicago Review Press will be publishing my middle grade book Mary Anning and Paleontology for Kids. Complete with photos by my own personal photographer, otherwise know as my talented husband, Darrell. (See honey, your’e in the story!)