Mary Anning Rocks: Pledges Needed!

There’s a campaign to build a statue of the geologist Mary Anning in Lyme Regis - can you help?

[Mary Anning was a] geological lioness … in a little dirty shop, with hundreds of specimens piled around her in the greatest disorder. She, the presiding Deity, [proved] a prim, pedantic vinegar looking, thin female; shrewd, and rather satirical in her conversation.

So said Giddeon Mantell (the discoverer of Iguanadon) after visiting Mary Anning’s fossil shop in Lyme Regis. Anning (1799-1847) always left an impression and, squinting through Mantell’s 19th Century misogyny, we get a picture of someone who speaks their mind, knows what they’re talking about, and doesn’t abide fools. Anning was ill-fitted to the newly arising geological sciences: not only was she a woman, but she was working class - the sale of fossils was her main means of income for most of her life - an amateur disconnected from universities, and a religious noncnformist. Despite this, during her life she was a major figure. She made important fossil discoveries, discussed fossil interpretation with many of the main geological players, and her shop became a hub for both the sale of fossils and the dissemination of the fieldwork and fossil preparation techniques she had developed. At a time when natural history museums, and particularly collections dealing with geology and paleontology, were beginning to flourish across North America and Europe, Anning’s practical innovations and business activities were extremely important.

Anning with her dog Tray on the Dorset coastline…

Anning with her dog Tray on the Dorset coastline…

Even before her death, Anning was mythologised. She survived a lightning strike as an infant, made one of her most spectacular fossil discoveries as a young girl, and her apparent lack of education was increasingly emphasized (apparently the idea that a working class person might educate themselves was something of a surprise in 19th Century Britain). By the turn of the 20th Century, Anning was often portrayed as something of an illiterate fossil savant.

But Mary was a scientist: her knowledge of anatomy was unparalleled, she was an excellent illustrator, she dissected extant critters to better understand her fossils, she engaged in debates over fossil-interpretation, and was a pioneer of paleontological fieldwork. She deserves more recognition and deserves more serious attention. If you’d like to know more about Anning, check out Adrian Currie’s recent article in The Conversation and interview on ABC.

Towards recognising Anning’s acheivements the town of Lyme Regis, where her fossil shop is now the site of an excellent museum, has agreed to put up a statue of Mary. But statues are expensive and the Campaign - Mary Anning Rocks - needs to crowdfund the money. And a succesful crowdfunding campaign needs sufficient support in the first place, with only a limited time to gather funds they need a bunch of pledges to be made before the campaign launches. So, if you’re interested in helping out, pop over to the Mary Anning Rocks website and make a pledge.

Special Issue: Paleobiology and Philosophy

Back in August 2017, a bunch of philosophers gathered for a few days in Dinosaur Provincial Park to read some papers and look at fossils. Those papers are now collected in a special issue Paleobiology and Philosophy, now forthcoming in Biology and Philosophy! We’ve collected the preprints here for your reading pleasure.

Paleobiology and Philosophy (editor’s introduction), by Adrian Currie.

Ancient Genetics to Ancient Genomics: Celebrity and Credibility in Data-Driven Practice, by Elizabeth Jones.

Contingency’s Causality and Structural Diversity, by Alison McConwell.

Crossed Tracks: Mesolimulus, Archaeopteryx, and the Nature of Fossils, by Leonard Finkelman

Evidential Reasoning in the Historical Sciences: Applying Toulmin Schemas to the case of Archezoa, by Thomas Bonnin

In Defense of Living Fossils, by Derek Turner.

Let Me Tell You ‘Bout the Birds and the Bee-Mimicking Flies and Bambiraptor, by Joyce Havstad.

Mass Extinctions as Major Transitions, by Adrian Currie.

Overcoming the Underdetermination of Specimens, by Caitlin Wylie.

Joyce Havstad captures the crew at the  Philosophy of Paleontology in the Badlands  meeting at Dinosaur Provincial Par

Joyce Havstad captures the crew at the Philosophy of Paleontology in the Badlands meeting at Dinosaur Provincial Par

SVP Meeting in Calgary

The Society for Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) meets in Calgary, Canada, next week, and the Extinct team will be there! We'll be holding a workshop on philosophy of paleontology on Tuesday, August 22nd. Looking forward to the conference!

Origination and extinction rates in ferns

A new paper uses a large dataset consisting of thousands of fossil samples of ferns to try to suss out what might account for variation in speciation and extinction rates. Interestingly, the causes of variation in origination rates seem to be different from what drives variation in extinction rates.

Studying the chemical signatures of 200 million year old fossil leaves

It's not possible to get any DNA fro 200 million year old plant fossils, but it turns out that the organic molecules in the leaves have distinctive chemical signatures. In a recent paper, scientists from Lund University in Sweden show how to use these chemical signatures to reconstruct plant phylogeny. Here is a press release that describes the work. Here's the paper.