Reviews /

Fossil Hunter: How Mary Anning changed the science of Prehistoric life

Authored by Cheryl Blackford
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Inc

Fossil Hunter is an engagingly written, in depth biography of the 19th Century palaeontologist, Mary Anning.

Mary Anning is now a justly celebrated pioneer in the field of palaeontology, having discovered many incredibly important fossils of dinosaurs near her home in Lyme Regis. However, at the time, the credit for Mary’s discoveries were attributed to men. Cheryl Blackford’s biography describes the social context of the early 19th Century, where it was believed women could not be serious scientists. Most people believed that God had created the world in its current state around 6000 years ago. Mary Anning’s work in finding fossils of extreme antiquity raised significant questions about the age of the Earth and what had happened to such incredible creatures.

Mary Anning was born in 1799 to the poor family of a carpenter. The family spent time exploring the seashore and cliffs near Lyme Regis discovering and restoring fossils together. Mary’s father had a serious accident and died very young leaving the family in penury. The author describes how Mary went on to discover amazing fossils of creatures from the Jurassic age, was able to remove them safely from the surrounding rock and then sell them to rich collectors so that the surviving family could survive.

Although uneducated Mary was well-informed, insightful and skilful not only in finding and removing the fossils but drawing and describing them too. The men who obtained the fossils from her almost always gave her no credit for the discoveries and it was not until comparatively recently that Mary’s significant contributions to science have been recognised.

Fossil Hunter is the best, and most in depth, biography for younger readers of Mary Anning that I have read. It explains fully the family background and the societal views that were challenges and how Mary overcame them to carve out a career as a fossil finder, as well as remaining as an independent woman. The book clearly outlines her achievements and her importance to science. The illustrations: photos, drawings, paintings and diagrams enhance and add to the text. It is an informative and enjoyable read. Recommended for both primary and secondary schools.