The Doctor meeting some of my favorite historical figures (Two showing a living dinosaur to Mary Anning, Eight completely geeking over Nikola Tesla’s work, and Five trying to convince Julie d’Aubigny not to kill someone who made fun of his celery).
I wanted to do a few portraits of women in paleontology so here’s Mary Anning and Professor Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan.
Mary Anning discovered the first plesiosaur skeleton and one of the first ictheosaurs and also played a key role in the discovery of coprolites (dino poo).
Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan is a South African vertebrate paleontologist known for her expertise in the study of the microstructure of fossil teeth and bones. She’s currently the head of the department of biological sciences at the University of Cape Town.
Mary Anning was born to a poor family that was shunned due to religious discrimination. To make some extra money the family began collecting fossils by the sea and selling them. Mary took over the family business after her father died and made many important fossil finds in the county of Dorset, but as a woman was kept out of the Geographical Society of London and often did not receive credit for her finds.
My favorite part of researching for this illustration was finding that local parlance referred to vertebrae as “verteberries”
A lot of the time when people talk about women in the sciences they’re like “oh, women? Yes, there was a woman. One woman. One woman in a man’s world. Doing science with men. Working with men. Having interpersonal conflict with men. Maybe occasionally seeing someone’s wife or sister at the end of a corridor.” Which is pretty myth of the exceptional individual and in the interests of not doing that, here are some of the many female fossil hunters Mary knew:
Anna Marie Pinney: gentleman’s daughter, moved to Lyme Regis in 1831, close friend of Mary’s despite about 15 years age difference. Her diary is where we get most of the known details about Mary Anning’s personal life. After their first fossil hunting trip she wrote the already mentioned quote about Mary’s outspokenness, which was almost unheard of in a 19th century woman. She also points out how Mary “laugh[ed] extremely at the young dandies”. Relatable.
Mrs. Stock : Wife of a landowner who sometimes hired a young Mary to run errands. Gave Mary the first geology book she ever owned at 14. According to Anna Marie, Mrs. Stock regarded Mary as “a spirited young person of independent character who did not much care for undue politeness and pretense.”
Elizabeth Philpot: One of a family of 5 wealthy sisters who moved to Lyme Regis while Mary lived there. About 20 years older than Mary, but went fossil hunting with her regularly. The Philpot home was so full of fossils people referred to it as a museum. When Mary discovered a belemnite fossil with dried ink inside Elizabeth mixed the powder with water and used it to paint prehistoric animals, which is so undergraduate statement art it’s unbelievable.
Charlotte Murchinson: Wife of famous geologist Roderick Murchinson. Visited Mary for a few weeks and kept up written correspondence for many years. Charlotte went on a geological expedition with her husband and Charles Lyell in 1828, where she was responsible for sketching all landscapes and translating to local guides, making her another unsung hero.
Mary was also friends with William Buckland. Here is a quote from Thomas Allen, who knew both and visited Mary in 1824: “her account of her disputes with Buckland, whose anatomical science she holds in contempt, was quite amusing”. Look at her, all grown up and throwing shade.
Mary Anning (1799-1847) was
a British paleontologist whose findings of Jurassic fossil beds contributed
greatly to scientific knowledge of prehistoric life and the history of the
Earth. She made crucial discoveries such as the first ichthyosaur skeleton or
the first two plesiosaur skeletons ever found and identified.
Born in a poor family, she started uncovering fossils in order to sell
them to tourists and supplement the family income. She became well-known in
scientific circles despite her lack of formal education, but was ineligible to
join the Geological Society of London because of her gender. Nevertheless, her
discoveries helped prove important theories such as evolution and extinction.
On May 21st, 1799, Mary Anning was born in England. She was a fossil collector, palaeontologist, and scientist who gave us some of the best discoveries in the mid 19th century. For a woman back in the 1800’s, this was groundbreaking for women and science in general.
We still struggle today to get more women involved and recognised for their work in science, so just think about how it was way back when (plus social status, etc)! Just last week I was speaking with an Anthropologist and Archaeologist (both women) on the growing number of women in science, and how great it is to see more females coming into these fields of study.
Mary Anning – for me – has been a huge inspiration ever since I was a child. She was bold, determined, and very daring with her fossil hunts. Anyone can hunt for fossils; you do not have to have a degree to do so. Now, should you sign up with a museum or society to do it? Yes, I highly suggest it, because it’s always good to make sure you are looking for the right signs, you are in safe territory, and that everything is done by the books. Each fossil is incredibly important to science!
This is a drawing of Mary Anning’s famous ichthyosaur skeleton (the first complete one recognized by European scientists). The skull was discovered by her brother in 1811, nearly a year before she found the full body, but didn’t cause much fuss, because everyone assumed it was from a crocodile (go to explanation for teeth and fossil fragments at the time).
Scientific progress was impeded when the skeleton fell into the hands of Sir Everard Home, who made such a mess of describing it that one contemporary (Jospeh Pentland, who was working with Cuvier) called his papers “abstruse, incomprehensible, and for the most part, uninteresting.”
First Home mistook the germ teeth (characteristic of reptiles) for mineral deposits, and decided that it couldn’t be a reptile, so it must be a bird. A giant, aquatic bird with fish-like spine structure, swim paddles, and saurian teeth. Then he backpedaled, saying it was a fish, but “by no means wholly a fish.”
Fortunately, not long after, Conybeare and de la Beche published a more accurate description, and everyone politely forgot about the whole thing, except for the French anatomists, who thought it was hilarious.
The Doctor takes Clara to Lyme Regis for a nice, calming vacation in the 19th Century. But alien parasites have infected the bones in Mary Anning’s shop and reanimated her fossils.Now ancient monsters are terrorizing Dorset. With their combined knowledge and expertise, the Doctor and Mary have to fight against the alien parasites and capture the fleeing fossils before they consume everything in their path.
Finally, I finished the comic for my master thesis! Here is the cover, the story is about Mary Anning, a fossil hunter lived in Lyme Regis, England, in the early XIX century. She found the skeletons of several marine reptiles like Ichthyosaurus and Plesiosaurs, many years before the birth of the term “dinosaur”. I like to think this little girl digging and find out the skull of an ancient beast never seen before…she must have thought that the legends about dragons were real!
Mary Anning Fossil collector and dealer, discoverer of the ichthyosaur
Mary Anning was born in 1799 in Dorset. From an early age, she loved to help her father collect fossil ‘curios’ from the beaches near her home, which her struggling family sold to tourists. She was described as a daring explorer of the rocks and cliffs by the ocean, going to any lengths to find these mysterious fossils of shells, teeth, ammonites and belemnites. When Anning was eleven, her father died and her family was left destitute.
While her brother was apprenticed to an upholsterer, Anning continued to exploit her talent for finding the best fossils. A good fossil find, like a perfect ammonite, could help her and her family eat for a week.
When Anning was twelve, her brother Joseph found the head of a giant, fossilized creature in the sand. It had huge eye sockets, a long, pointed jaw, and sharp interlocking teeth. Months later, Mary Anning began to find more fossil fragments nearby. Anning gathered some men to help dig the fossils out. It was an entire connected skeleton. She sold the skeleton for 23 pounds, enough to feed her family for six months.
Mary was visited by many well-to-do fossil collectors and early geologists of the day. Her name was well-known, and papers were written about 'Mary’s creature,’ which came to be called the ichthyosaur, or 'fish-lizard.’ Mary worked to educate herself by copying over papers written about her creature. In a time when the concept of extinction was considered somewhat heretical, as well as confusing, the ichthyosaur clearly demonstrated that some animals had ceased to exist, and had been buried in succeeding layers of rock.
Anning would go on to discover other important dinosaurs and assist with the development of the new science of paleontology and fossil interpretation. The the ostracod Cytherelloidea anningi was named after her, as well as two genera, Anningia and Anningella. In the last fifteen years, Anning’s place as an important contributor to paleontology in Britain has been increasingly recognized and formalized. In 2009, she was included, by a panel of experts commissioned by the Royal Society, in a list of the ten most influential British women in the history of science.
Sources: “Terrible Lizard” by Deborah Cadbury; “Mary Anning,” Wikipedia.
Lyme Regis Museum, Dorset -Museums have always been the repositories of mixtures of the familiar and the extraordinary, but recently many of the grand multimillion pound millennium projects have presented slick, but edited versions of our history that lack the particular and idiosyncratic things that made museums so engaging in the past. Not so at the Lyme Regis Museum - built on the site of the home of the early 19th century fossil hunter Mary Anning, it focusses on the geology of the Jurassic coast: ammonites and objects that are millions of years old, but also engaging curiosities like a Bakerlite war memorial, 18th century gaming tokens, a doll belonging to Jane Austen’s family, and such like. It reminds us that history is not just about the grand narratives (such a battles and politics - and the evolution of species) but the quirky particularities of peoples’ lives in a certain place and time. These are the things that draw us in and connect us to the past.