Today’s Google Honors English Paleontologist Mary Anning

Not many people know of Mary Anning (21 May 1799 – 9 March 1847), but her contributions to the field of paleontology were immense, not least because she was a woman of humble origins participating in a scientific community overwhelmingly dominated by well-to-do men. Her achievements rightfully earned her a Google Doodle, which typically highlight lesser-known but accomplished historical figures.

Anning, who started out as a fossil collector, used to dig the fossils and sell them for a living. It wasn’t until later in her life, that she took to it as a science. Anning’s works helped influence and shape the early days of the study of the science of palaeontology.

Amongst Mary Anning’s many discoveries, the more prominent ones included, the Ichthyosaurs, the Plesiosaurs, Fossil fish and the Pterosaur. The doodle itself, pays a tribute of sorts with the second G in the word closely resembling the fossilised bone structure of a reptile from the Jurassic Age.

Sadly, Anning’s gender and social class — she was born into a poor family — prevented her from fully participating in the scientific community of 19th-century Britain, which was dominated by wealthy men. She was ineligible to join the esteemed Geological Society of London, and many of her scientific contributions went uncredited during her lifetime (only one of her writings was ever published by name). Subsequently, she faced a financial struggles for much of her life, and experienced understandable cynicism. She noted in a personal letter: “The world has used me so unkindly, I fear it has made me suspicious of everyone.

Nevertheless was well known and appreciated in geological circles throughout Britain, Europe, and the United States, often being consulted on issues of fossil anatomy and collection techniques. After her death in 1847, her unlikely story attracted increasing interest, including from none other than Charles Dickens, who wrote that “the carpenter’s daughter has won a name for herself, and has deserved to win it.”

It was only in 2010 — 163 years after her death that the prestigious Royal Society, the U.K.”s foremost academy of science, included Anning in a list of the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science. It’s certainly better late than never. 

 

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