Once Again, Walking in the Footsteps of Mary Anning

For those of you who follow my occasional treks through Natural History Museums, you may know I have a mini-obsession with the story of the paleontologist, Mary Anning— as the header of Science Over a Cuppa attests.

Just last week I returned from yet another fantastic trip to England, spending a few days in London (stopping by the London Natural History Museum, above) and topping it off with a solid week down in Mary Anning’s old home town, Lyme Regis. Sadly, the weather did not bless us down on the coast and I got a good taste of the coastal wet and wind that Mary Anning undoubtedly had to work through. And believe me, the Black Ven can be WINDY. We came for spring and got the last wicked lash of winter. But c’est la vie, I had a blast nonetheless!

We also apparently just missed Kate Winslet the week before filming her up-and-coming movie, Ammonite, in which she portrays Mary Anning, set for release in 2020. Local shop owner of Jurassic Gems, Paul Crossley, was hired to teach Kate how to properly bash limestones so she looked like the real deal for Hollywood! –Apparently, the locals are also up-in-arms, including family members of Mary Anning, who are furious that director, Francis Lee, has portrayed Anning as a lesbian, for which they argue there is no evidence. In spite of the exagerrated poetic license, I’m still looking forward to seeing Anning’s biography on screen.

At the London Natural History Museum, the famous ichthyosaur skull found by Mary Anning’s brother and the remainder of the skull and spine found by Mary Anning as a young teenager. This find essentially started her career.

Movies and Hollywood aside, I was finally armed with a new toasty waterproof seaside coat (purchased on site– thank you, Seasalt Cornwall!), a knit insulated pompom cap, a warm scarf, and gloves, and was ready to trek the lanes of this beautiful historic coastal town. Thankfully, we did have two good days of sunny weather during which I was able to snap some decent pics.

Left: a view of the main beach and the cobb. Upper right: a view of the town from the Square. Lower right: a view of the main beach, along with the ever-popular English beach huts and the ammonite-adorned lamp posts.

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A view of the Black Ven, one of the better places for fossil hunting locally.

The rain at least did kick up a few fossils and I was able to find a small pyritized (fool’s gold) ammonite characteristic of the Ven. However, I quickly learned that in order to be a successful fossil hunter on these shores, one needs decidedly more muscle than I have in order to break through the tough limestone. Thankfully, one of the local lads helped me bash a few rocks and we found a couple small specimens.

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Pyritized ammonite, one of my prized finds during the trip.

Since I’m no fossil-hunting expert, I also took advantage of the expertise of some of the local shops and purchased a few choice specimens for my fossil collection. At my absolute favorite shop, Jurassic Gems, I purchased some shark poo (yes, I said “shark poo”) aka coprolite, and a vertebra from a Triassic-era ichthyosaur (most ichthyosaur fossils found on the coast are Jurassic in age), both relatively rare finds. (Read here about a giant Triassic ichthyosaur that gives the blue whale a run for its money!)

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Shark coprolite (left) and a Triassic-era vertebra from a ichthyosaur (species unknown).

To top off the trip, I visited the Lyme Regis Museum to learn more about the history of local fossil hunting.

Left: a view of the front of the museum. Right: a view of the back of the museum (with dome) and the Lym River estuary.

Left: one of the museum’s prized ichthyosaurs. Upper right: a massive ichthyosaur skull. Lower right: a Lego ichthyosaur.

I also loved this print (below) hung in the museum by local and Royal College-trained artist, Michael Blooman, so much that I couldn’t help contacting him and purchasing one of the few remaining prints in this series.

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After my long hard days trekking through the rain and wind to find a few choice fossils, I would stop in at the shops for an invigorating cuppa before heading back out to the Ven. I guess you really could say I was doing “science over a cuppa”!

Cheers, everyone.

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