Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Mary Anning: British palaeontologist celebrated in Google doodle

British fossil collector Mary Anning's 215th birthday has been marked with a Google doodle.
 Google is celebrating the 215th anniversary of the birth of British palaeontologist Mary Anning with a special doodle, which shows Anning uncovering a dinosaur's fossilised remains.

Mary Anning, born on 21 May 1799, was a British fossil collector, dealer, and palaeontologist who became known around the world for the important findings she made in the Jurassic marine fossil beds at Lyme Regis in Dorset.

Anning searched for fossils in the area's Blue Lias cliffs, particularly during the winter months when landslides exposed new fossils that had to be collected quickly before they were lost to the sea. It was dangerous work, and she nearly lost her life in 1833 during a landslide.

Her discoveries included the first ichthyosaur skeleton correctly identified, which she and her brother Joseph found when she was just twelve years old, the first two plesiosaur skeletons ever found, the first pterosaur skeleton located outside Germany, and important fish fossils.

Anning's work contributed to fundamental changes that occurred during her lifetime in scientific thinking about prehistoric life and the history of the Earth.
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However, although Anning was well known in geological circles in Britain, Europe, and America, her gender and social class prevented her from fully participating in the scientific community of 19th-century Britain, dominated as it was by wealthy Anglican gentlemen.

She struggled financially for much of her life. Her family was poor, and as religious dissenters, were subject to legal discrimination. 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.

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.

It was only in 2010, one hundred and sixty-three years after her death, that the Royal Society included Anning in a list of the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science.

Anning's life is the subject of Tracy Chevalier's 2009 historical novel, Remarkable Creatures, which was published to coincide with the 210th anniversary of her birth, and another historical novel, Curiosity by Joan Thomas, which was published in March 2010.

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