A guest post by Yael Gazit
In August 1800, when Anning was only 15 months old, she was being held by a neighbor who stood under a tree with two other women. Suddenly, lightening hit the tree and killed the three women. Mary was miraculously saved, and for years her curiously and easygoing personality was considered to be a result of that event.
Perhaps it was because of the lightening, and perhaps not, but Mary spent most of her childhood in nature. Her carpenter father would collect fossils he found in the beach cliffs by their house and sell them to tourists. When Mary joined him, they collected and studied the fossils together. Anning’s formal education was limited. She learned how to read and write at church, but not much more.
Even without a formal education, she became a groundbreaking scientist, and made her first discovery at the age of 12. Her most famous finding was a Ichthyosaurus skeleton that she and her brother found in 1811. They initially believed it to be a crocodile skeleton, but she quickly realized it was a different animal, one that had been unknown until then. She called the animal Ichthyosaurus (lizard fish in Latin).
Mary Anning was memorialized in the book Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier (the author of the book The Girl With the Pearl Necklace).
Today, we can say that she was ahead of her time. Her discoveries challenged popular perceptions of the creation of the world and sparked discussions about the origin of man. The world was not ready for a woman in a male-dominated academic arena, but today she is considered one of the greatest fossil explorers who ever existed. Ross, who never gets tired of dinosaurs, also thanks her.