(ORDO NEWS) — Although science is always the result of the efforts of many, there is a place in it for brilliant singles who manage to make many discoveries. Mary Anning was among those loners.
When Mary was just over a year old, a miracle happened. Young neighbors were looking after her when a thunderstorm began.
The girls hid with the baby under the elm tree, but lightning struck the tree. Relatives who ran up found that the neighbors were dead, but Mary was still breathing; with a crumb in their arms, they rushed to the doctor, and he, not knowing what to recommend, offered to warm her up in the bathroom.
Other babies from the smallest nails were busy with the housework, helping their mother, and were absent only to play in the yard with their friends. Mary, alone or with a brother named Joseph, wandered wherever she pleased, most often along the coast on which her house stood.
Children found a lot of interesting things – from things thrown out by the storm to fossils. The development of paleontology was just beginning, interest in fossilized mollusks flared up, and the finds of children were bought several times.
Mr. Anning, realizing what was happening, put the matter on stream. Fossil hunting became a small family business that helped rebuild their house after terrible storms.
Very quickly, stone shells ceased to be just shells for her. If scientists knew the name of any of them, and wrote about it in newspapers or books, then soon Mary knew too. She liked to know.
The Annings made their best finds after landslides, when a collapsed section of the coast revealed an entire layer of fossils.
However, they had to be cleaned out of the rock quickly, before they were destroyed by wind or new landslides. This work was dangerous: sometimes landslides began right during the excavations. The main thing was to escape from the slope in time.
When Mary was twelve, Joseph found an ichthyosaur skull. At first, the children and scientists to whom the find was handed over decided that it was an ancient crocodile, but Mary, in search of the rest of the body, found something like a fish skeleton, exactly the right size for the skull. So the ichthyosaur was discovered.
She was so turned on her excavations that she devoted her whole life to them, and remained an old maid living on the shore.
Everything found, before being sold to scientists (I must say, literally for a penny), she carefully described and classified, if the name for the find already existed. If it didn’t exist, she waited for scientists to come up with it and wrote it down.
Mary Anning’s 1823 letter and drawing announces the discovery of a fossil now known as a plesiosaur
Just as carefully conducting financial affairs, Mary managed to buy her house, in a safer place, by the age of twenty-seven, and open a fossil shop in it, instantly giving rise to the saying “She sells seashells on the seashore”, then there is where everything is in shells, do not be lazy to pick it up.
Anning shells, however, were special. For example, she was able to buy a house after finding and selling the first plesiosaur skeleton, which again made a fuss in the scientific world.
Mary’s shop instantly became a place of pilgrimage for paleontologists and amateurs alike. Among Anning’s buyers were the King of Saxony and many scientists who were later inscribed in the history of science.
In our time, Mary herself would enter science by receiving a scholarship or at least giving lectures on her discoveries – and she made not only many discoveries, but also independent discoveries. But Mary was a woman, an old maid, a commoner, and also belonged to an unpopular religious movement.
The scientists to whom she gave copies of her notes felt that Anning should be grateful for the fact that they take them into account.
In the first half of the nineteenth century, England was not a place where anyone but a white gentleman (preferably a member of the Anglican Church) was taken seriously as a person.
Sketch of the skull of an ichthyosaur discovered by Joseph and Mary Anning, 1814
In the thirties of the nineteenth century, Mary almost died on excavations due to a landslide. Her faithful and already middle-aged dog Trey died before he could escape from the slope, and Anning herself escaped death again by a miracle. It didn’t make the scientific world respect Mary’s work any more.
Although Anning was consulted from Britain, Germany and the United States, and many were surprised in person by the incredible amount of knowledge and sharp mind of a woman, only one person took a real part in it.
The president of the Geological Society (which, of course, did not even think of accepting Anning into its ranks) Henry de la Beche made and sold pictures of scenes from the life of marine animals of the Jurassic period based on Mary’s sketches in order to give her the proceeds.
This money helped her, but in general, the scientific world got rid of one of the leading paleontologists of her time with pennies, then making names, careers and money on her finds and discoveries.
English naturalist Charles Darwin
Mary’s anxious friends tried to increase her income so that she could pay for medical consultations and her morphine.
In the Dorset County Museum, the researcher was awarded an honorary membership, and an initiative group of geologists and paleontologists achieved for her, albeit a small, but still permanent pension from the state – for her contribution to science.
Alas, to enjoy at least this, but still the recognition of Anning did not happen long. She died. The church where she was buried later made stained glass windows depicting Mary Anning at the dig. Charles Dickens, who loves tragic stories, wrote a touching story about her. So Anning finally gained fame throughout Britain.
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