Around 1811, 12-year-old Mary Anning and her brother Joseph discovered what she would later find to be a remarkably complete Jurassic-era fossil of an Ichthyosaurus, a prehistoric marine reptile. It was the first of many scientific discoveries she made near the fossil-rich cliffs of Lyme Regis, including a plesiosaur and coprolites, fossilized poop.
How did Mary Anning, as a young woman living in an era when women weren’t allowed to vote, go to university, or belong to scientific organizations, eventually get credit for her scientific discoveries? This BBC Ideas stop-motion animation about her difficult life was made with sand and stones from Anning’s beach by animator Anna Humphries.
In 1823, Anning discovered the bones of another gigantic reptile-like creature, which caused an even bigger sensation: a plesiosaur. The news of this discovery spread quickly throughout the scientific world, and the remains were brought to the Geological Society of London and became the subject of scientific debate, to which Anning was not invited. The famous French scientist Georges Cuvier, known as “the father of paleontology,” inspected the bones and first concluded that they were fake before eventually admitting his error and recognizing their authenticity.
Over the years that followed, Anning made further discoveries of fossils that revolutionized science. However, in spite of her phenomenal contributions, Anning was rarely recognized officially for her discoveries, which were instead credited to the wealthy “gentlemen scientists” who bought the fossils. She was also consistently refused entry to the Geological Society because she was a woman.
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