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Dragons &

Introduction, research & field notes.

Mary Anning, born 1799, was a fossil hunter and palaeontologist from Lyme Regis, UK. Her discoveries of prehistoric sea creatures contributed to the identification and classification of a wide range of marine life.  As a woman born to a poor family, she was denied fellowship of the scientific communities of the day and her work was often credited to the men that dominated the field.

In recent years her story has become well-known, particularly around the broader historic social injustices that her case highlights, yet information and evidence about her is fragmentary; a few letters, a couple of notebooks and a range of records written by those that knew or encountered her.  In a letter written in 1844 – fifteen years before the publication of ‘On the Origin of Species’ – she anticipates the fundamental basis of Darwin’s theory of evolution

‘…from what little I have seen of the fossil World and Natural History, I think the connection or analogy between the creatures of the former and present World excepting as to size, much greater than is generally supposed….’ 1

Today she is acknowledged in the museums and collections that hold her work, though often credited as a collector, rather than the field palaeontologist and scientific thinker that she was.

During the research phase of this project I initially envisaged it to be a documentary work, looking at her legacy and the people she has influenced, those inspired by the underdog story, the ‘poor ignorant girl’2 finding herself in the company of the foremost men of science. Yet whilst photographing her original specimens, housed in collections and museums throughout the UK, I began looking for a critical distance to record from; looking for traces of her hand; scratchings from her pick; marks from her pen.

With movies being commissioned,3 novels and plays of her life being published, and her inclusion in the national curriculum I felt I needed to find a different way of telling her story, seeking  fragments of evidence of her presence, intimate, physical marks left behind by a remarkable woman.

1 Letter to Miss Solly (1844)
2 Lady Sylvester’s ‘Tour Through Devonshire’ (1824)

3 ‘Mary Anning & The Dinosaur Hunters’ due for release 2018