WHO WAS HENRY DE LA BECHE?
In 1830, English geologist Henry De la Beche painted a curious watercolor with the intention of selling copies to raise money for a friend. The friend was Mary Anning, and the painting was the first time anyone had tried to draw a realistic picture of prehistoric life. Most amazing of all, Mary had discovered every animal in it. A look back in time De la Beche called his painting Duria Antiquior, or “A more ancient Dorset.”
It featured animals that Mary had found as fossils on the coast of Dorset in England. Prints of this painting were passed around scientific circles in the 1800s, and influenced thinking on prehistoric life.
WHO WAS MARY ANNING?
Mary Anning (1799–1847) was just 11 years old when her brother found the head of a large fossil on a beach.
She was to become one of the most famous of all fossil hunters. Anning was never taken as seriously as she should have been because she was a woman and from a poor background, whereas most scientists of the time were men from wealthy families.
WHAT WAS IT?
Anning spent months uncovering the body of her first fossil. It was later named Ichthyosaurus, which means “fish lizard.” This marine reptile swam in the time of the dinosaurs.
WHAT BIG EYES!
Huge eye sockets suggest that ichthyosaurs depended on their vision to hunt. They may even have hunted at night or in deep, dark waters.
The cliffs at Lyme Regis bay, where Anning hunted for fossils, are still an exciting place for fossil hunters.
More amazing finds
The cliffs near where Anning lived are rich in fossils from the Jurassic Period. She found the first plesiosaur there in 1823 and the first pterosaur in 1828. She carefully recorded each find, before selling the fossils.
A precious notebook
Anning’s life was not easy and was largely spent in poverty. She and one brother were the only survivors of 10 children, and she lacked an education. However, she managed to teach herself about the fossils she found and kept careful notes and sketches detailing each find. Over the years, her fossil hunting successes would bring her huge recognition.