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The Real She Who Sold Seashells By the Seashore


We all grew up with Peter and his pickled peppers, Swiss wristwatches, and the many labors of the woodchuck. I just assumed these were phrases made up for giggling school children to enjoy and theatrical directors to use as diction exercises.  But, I just learned that “She” and her famous seashell business were real… and it’s a shame so few know her name.

Mary Anning was born in 1799 to a family that called the Jurassic Coast of Britain home. The cliffs provided the Annings with an advantageous and, certainly, odd hobby for the time; fossil collecting. This was at a time before the world had any real knowledge and understanding of prehistory. As far as anyone could fathom, remains of animals found were thought to be those of animals that had simply changed migration patterns and didn’t exist in that part of the world anymore. No one knew these beasts were extinct… or how ancient they were. So, along with her brother and father, Mary began collecting fossils along the cliffs and selling them on the beach to holiday visitors. When her father passed away, she took over the business, and began taking detailed notes and drawing pictures of her findings. Not only was she one of the first paleontologists, she was the first woman in the field. She is even credited with finding the very first ichthyosaur skeleton, and would later go on to discover the first plesiosaur.

Unfortunately, no one took her seriously when she was alive.  She was a woman, after all, and women had no place in science in the early 1800s. She was also young, uneducated, and from a poor background. Most of her findings ended up in museums, their discoverer nameless.

Although “Mary Anning sold fossils by the seashore” isn’t nearly as fun to say, you now know who “she” was.

I wonder what Peter Piper was really up to…


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