Learn about 'Mary Anning: The Woman Who Changed Geology' March 5 at Lizzadro Museum

  • A portrait of Mary Anning and her loyal dog Tray from the Natural History Museum, London. Artist unknown.

    A portrait of Mary Anning and her loyal dog Tray from the Natural History Museum, London. Artist unknown. Courtesy of Lizzadro Museum

 
Submitted by Sara Kurth
Updated 3/1/2022 1:31 PM

On Saturday, March 5, the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art, 1220 Kensington Road in Oak Brook, will present "The Woman Who Changed Geology" from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Mary Anning, the first female fossilist, will visit the museum to discuss her life and times, while discovering some of the first dinosaur-age fossils. This living history presentation will include real fossils to see and touch, puzzles, fossil making, and giveaways.

 

Reservations not required for this all-ages event. Face coverings are required. Museum admission is $10, $8 for seniors, age 65 or older, or $5 for youth, age 7 or older.

The English woman was born in 1799 in a town on the coast of Dorset, the center of what is later to be dubbed the "Jurassic Coast."

According to a post on Anning on the museum's website by museum educator and geologist Sara Kurth, the blue/gray cliffs of limestone and shale are some of the most unstable beaches in England, susceptible to the changing tides and frequent storms that inundate the area. The battle of sea and land provides ample opportunity for erosion -- and ultimately the unveiling of fossils.

Anning was, for all intents and purposes, a nobody. But to geologists, and specifically, women geologists, she is a pioneer.

As a poor carpenter, her father hunted fossils for extra money. Around the age of 5 or 6, he began taking her out to hunt for fossils, an activity not common for girls during this era. He taught her all she needed to know about fossil collection and preparation. Her father died when she was 11 years old, leaving massive debts and forcing the entire family to work. Although she loved school, after the death of her father, she could no longer attend and often sought odd jobs.

Unhappy with that prospect, Anning decided to return to the beach and search for fossils. On her first solo trip after her father's passing, she found a "snakestone," what later would be termed an ammonite. A well-to-do lady bought the ammonite from her, thus sparking her new "career" -- seashell seller!

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Occasionally her brother would join her on the beach. One fateful day in 1811, he discovered what they believed to be a crocodile's head. It took Anning another year and many more storms to find the rest of the body. Once fully unearthed, the complete skeleton measured 17-feet long with a 4-foot skull -- the first complete skeleton of its kind ever found. This resulted in a slew of new questions for the scientific community as it was obviously not a crocodile. Eventually this new species was named -- ichthyosaur or "fish lizard."

Anning continued to probe the cliffs of Lyme Regis and found many more ichthyosaurs, as well as another new species, the plesiosaur.

One of the many ichthyosaurs discovered by early 19th-century fossilist Mary Anning. Learn more about her contribution to the field of paleontology at a March 5 event at the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art in Oak Brook.
One of the many ichthyosaurs discovered by early 19th-century fossilist Mary Anning. Learn more about her contribution to the field of paleontology at a March 5 event at the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art in Oak Brook. - Courtesy of Lizzadro Museum

Her ability to find these fossils brought many scientists to the cliffs to search for fossils themselves, or more often, to utilize Anning's keen ability to find and prepare the fossils. Unfortunately, women were not allowed to join the Geological Society of London and all her finds were sold to men who took credit for the finds instead. One scientist, William Buckland, was one of the few who gave Anning the credit she was due for her finds. But Anning would not be inducted into the society or given credit for her work until well after her death.

Today, Anning's name is becoming more well-known. Her contribution to the field of paleontology is unprecedented.

On March 5, the museum is hosting a living-history presentation featuring Mary Anning. A character interpretation will describe her life, along with other activities for children and adults to learn about fossils, as well as this remarkable woman's achievements.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
An ammonite, similar to the ones Mary Anning found on the beaches of Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast of England.
An ammonite, similar to the ones Mary Anning found on the beaches of Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast of England. - Courtesy of Lizzadro Museum

For more information about Mary Anning, check out these books:

• For adults, "The Fossil Hunter: Dinosaurs, Evolution, and the Woman Whose Discoveries Changed the World" by Shelley Emling; "The Fossil Woman: A Life of Mary Anning" by Tom Sharpe; and "Remarkable Creatures," a novel about Mary Anning and her friend Mary Philpot, by Tracy Chevalier.

• For kids, "Mary Anning's Curiosity" by Monica Kulling and Melissa Castrillon; "Mary Anning and the Sea Dragon" by Jeannine Atkins and Michael Dooling; and "Dinosaur Lady: The Daring Discoveries of Mary Anning, the First Paleontologist" by Linda Skeers and Marta Alvarez Miguens.

Learn more at lizzadromuseum.org.

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