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Real-life Ammonite fossil hunter Mary Anning to finally be honoured, ‘righting historic wrong’

Lily Wakefield January 4, 2022
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Mary Anning and Kate Winslet in Ammonite.

Kate Winslet played Mary Anning in Ammonite. (Natural History Museum Picture Library and YouTube/ BFI)

Fossil hunter Mary Anning, portrayed by Kate Winslet in the film Ammonite, will finally be honoured with a statue in her hometown of Lyme Regis.

Until recently, Anning, born in 1799, was almost forgotten by history despite being a pioneering and influential woman in science.

Her story was told in the 2020 film Ammonite, in which she was played by Kate Winslet. The film imagined Anning as queer, as there is no evidence that the palaeontologist had relationships with either men or women, and Saoirse Ronan played her lover.

In the 19th century, Anning would scour the Dorset coast for fossils which she sold to provide an income for her family. However credit for her groundbreaking finds, including one of the first ichthyosaurus skeletons, was often given to the men who bought them off her.

Finally, after a campaign started by a school pupil, Anning will receive the recognition she deserves in her hometown.

Evie Swire was 10 years old when she started the project Mary Anning Rocks to campaign for a statue of the fossil hunter in Lyme Regis.

Now 13, and aiming to also become a woman in STEM, Swire counts Sir David Attenborough and the Paleontological Society as patrons of her campaign group.

After years of fighting “bureaucratic red tape” and deliberations over where to place the artwork, a statue of Anning and her dog Tray will be unveiled on the 223rd anniversary of Anning’s birth, in May 2022.

Swire’s mother, Anya Pearson, told The Guardian: “Now we finally have the perfect spot for her, facing Black Ven [cliff] and Golden Cap [hill]. Black Ven is where she found most of her fossils, and it is just the most evocative spot, looking out to sea.

“It is the same background view as that in the only portrait ever painted of Mary. So there is great connectivity.”

She continued: “It’s been a long battle, and at one point I really thought the whole project might be strangled by bureaucratic red tape. I thought the hard-part would be the fundraising, not getting planning permission.

“But the local people really got behind it, and have been amazing.”

Pearson said that if Anning had been an upper class man, her achievements would never have been overlooked, and “a statue would have been raised over a hundred years ago”.

She added: “I really feel we have finally righted a historic wrong.”

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