Mary Ann Clark Biography & Facts
Mary Anning (21 May 1799 – 9 March 1847) was an English fossil collector, dealer, and palaeontologist who became known around the world for the discoveries she made in Jurassic marine fossil beds in the cliffs along the English Channel at Lyme Regis in the county of Dorset in Southwest England. Anning's findings contributed to changes in scientific thinking about prehistoric life and the history of the Earth.
Anning searched for fossils in the area's Blue Lias and Charmouth Mudstone cliffs, particularly during the winter months when landslides exposed new fossils that had to be collected quickly before they were lost to the sea. Her discoveries included the first correctly identified ichthyosaur skeleton when she was twelve years old; the first two nearly complete plesiosaur skeletons; the first pterosaur skeleton located outside Germany; and fish fossils. Her observations played a key role in the discovery that coprolites, known as bezoar stones at the time, were fossilised faeces, and she also discovered that belemnite fossils contained fossilised ink sacs like those of modern cephalopods.
Anning struggled financially for much of her life. As a woman, she was not eligible to join the Geological Society of London and she did not always receive full credit for her scientific contributions. However, her friend, geologist Henry De la Beche, who painted Duria Antiquior, the first widely circulated pictorial representation of a scene from prehistoric life derived from fossil reconstructions, based it largely on fossils Anning had found and sold prints of it for her benefit. Anning became well known in geological circles in Britain, Europe, and America, and was consulted on issues of anatomy as well as fossil collecting. The only scientific writing of hers published in her lifetime appeared in the Magazine of Natural History in 1839, an extract from a letter that Anning had written to the magazine's editor questioning one of its claims.
After her death in 1847, Anning's unusual life story attracted increasing interest. An anonymous article about Anning's life was published in February 1865 in Charles Dickens' literary magazine All the Year Round. The profile, "Mary Anning, The Fossil Finder," was long attributed to Dickens himself but, in 2014, historians of palaeontology Michael A. Taylor and Hugh S. Torrens identified Henry Stuart Fagan as the author, noting that Fagan's work was "neither original nor reliable" and "introduced errors into the Anning literature which are still problematic." Specifically, they noted that Fagan had largely and inaccurately plagiarised his article from an earlier account of Anning's life and work by Dorset native Henry Rowland Brown, from the second edition of Brown's 1859 guidebook, The Beauties of Lyme Regis.
Life and career
Mary Anning was born in Lyme Regis in Dorset, England, on 21 May 1799. Her father, Richard Anning (c.1766–1810), was a cabinetmaker and carpenter who supplemented his income by mining the coastal cliff-side fossil beds near the town, and selling his finds to tourists; her mother was Mary Moore (c.1764–1842) known as Molly. Anning's parents married on 8 August 1793 in Blandford Forum and moved to Lyme, living in a house built on the town's bridge. They attended the Dissenter chapel on Coombe Street, whose worshippers initially called themselves independents and later became known as Congregationalists. Shelley Emling writes that the family lived so near to the sea that the same storms that swept along the cliffs to reveal the fossils sometimes flooded the Annings' home, on one occasion forcing them to crawl out of an upstairs bedroom window to avoid drowning.
Molly and Richard had ten children. The first child, also Mary, was born in 1794. She was followed by another daughter, who died almost at once; Joseph in 1796; and another son in 1798, who died in infancy. In December that year, the oldest child, (the first Mary) then four years old, died after her clothes caught fire, possibly while adding wood shavings to the fire. The incident was reported in the Bath Chronicle on 27 December 1798: "A child, four years of age of Mr. R. Anning, a cabinetmaker of Lyme, was left by the mother for about five minutes ... in a room where there were some shavings ... The girl's clothes caught fire and she was so dreadfully burnt as to cause her death."When Anning was born five months later, she was thus named Mary after her dead sister. More children were born after her, but none of them survived more than a year or two. Only the second Mary Anning and her brother Joseph, who was three years older than her, survived to adulthood. The high childhood mortality rate for the Anning family was not unusual. Almost half the children born in the UK in the 19th century died before the age of five, and in the crowded living conditions of early 19th-century Lyme Regis, infant deaths from diseases like smallpox and measles were common.On 19 August 1800, when Anning was 15 months old, an event occurred that became part of local lore. She was being held by a neighbour, Elizabeth Haskings, who was standing with two other women under an elm tree watching an equestrian show being put on by a travelling company of horsemen when lightning struck the tree – killing all three women below. Onlookers rushed the infant home where she was revived in a bath of hot water. A local doctor declared her survival miraculous. Anning's family said she had been a sickly baby before the event but afterwards she seemed to blossom. For years afterwards members of her community would attribute the child's curiosity, intelligence and lively personality to the incident.Anning's education was extremely limited, but she was able to attend a Congregationalist Sunday school, where she learned to read and write. Congregationalist doctrine, unlike that of the Church of England at the time, emphasised the importance of education for the poor. Her prized possession was a bound volume of the Dissenters' Theological Magazine and Review, in which the family's pastor, the Reverend James Wheaton, had published two essays, one insisting that God had created the world in six days, the other urging dissenters to study the new science of geology.
Fossils as a family business
By the late 18th century, Lyme Regis had become a popular seaside resort, especially after 1792 when the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars made travel to the European mainland dangerous for the English gentry, and increasing numbers of wealthy and middle-class tourists were arriving there. Even before Anning's time, locals supplemented their income by selling what were called "curios" to visitors. These were fossils with colourful local names such as "snake-stones" (ammonites), "devil's fingers" (belemnites), and "verteberries" (vertebrae), to which were sometimes attributed medicinal and mystical properties. Fossil collecting was in vogue in the late 18th and early 19th ce.... Discover the Mary Ann Clark popular books. Find the top 100 most popular Mary Ann Clark books.