Thursday, 11 August 2016

In the footsteps of Mary Anning...

This weekend we made the last minute decision to take a road trip to Charmouth and go fossil hunting.

I threw some stuff into a bag - my Kindle, the latest Pom Pom Quarterly and my current stocking project - and Rich made up a quick picnic.

(Pro-tip - when taking the time to check you have the heel pattern on your phone, do check that you've actually packed the contrast colour for the heel. I finished up the foot of my stocking within half an hour and then had nothing to occupy my hands.)

We did hit traffic, which we hadn't considered and is probably inevitable when it's a Saturday in August, but we arrived with the sun still blazing down. We scrambled onto the beach and immediately started scouring the stones at our feet for fossils.

This was a really interesting trip for me, as when I was younger I really wanted to be an paleontologist. Even at the age of ten, I didn't just want a role model to follow in the footsteps of, I wanted a female role model. In the time before Google, all I could find was Mary Anning (Dr Ellie Sattler was, I'd decided, brilliant, but as a Paleobotanist, just not what I was after, thanks).

Mary Anning worked in Lyme Regis, where she spent the winter months searching for fossils to be rescued from the tide. This was not dainty work that involved just an afternoon stroll and the leisurely plucking of finds from the stones between her feet. This was arduous work that involved a woman in full skirts and corset, wielding a hammer, surviving rock falls and the discovery of an ichthyosaur and two pleiosaurs.

As a woman, she was not permitted to fuly engage in scientific life, nor was she eligible to join any of the scientific societies. But she was consulted and made many key discoveries that led to her to being named one of the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science.

I never visited any of the beaches that Anning explored at the height of my prehistoric mania, so it was a treat to do so now. I have to admit that I thought I'd be coming home with bags full of finds, but after about ten minutes on the beach I realised it was going to be a lot trickier than I had thought.

I was lucky though, to light upon a starfish. Not a fossil, but the impression left by one on a small stone. It has come home with me as a lucky charm.

I'm still thinking about Mary, in her tightly laced boots and her obstructive skirts, marching down the beach, hammer in hand. While I might not have taken the path my ten-year-old self dreamed of, I still think of that woman who was my first hero and I was happy to have walked in her footsteps this weekend.

1 comment:

  1. Hi there, great blog, just so you know that the last photo isn't a star fish impression it is a fossil! its a sea urchin from about 80-100 million years ago! It's from the top sandy layers of the cliffs. Well done on the find!! (I'm very jealous.