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Wednesday, 13 April 2011

French scientist suggests Dorset fossil find may be a fake!

In the winter of 1820/21 Mary Anning, the famous Dorset fossil hunter discovered the partial skeleton of a marine reptile. Nothing like it had been seen before and it was named a plesiosaur by William Coneybeare. Two years later she discovered a more complete specimen of this incredible animal which has 35 vertebrae in its long, long neck. Controversy followed when she sent her drawings of the plesiosaur to the famous French anatomist, George Cuvier.
Some of the neck bones in the specimen were displaced and it is possible that this led Cuvier to suggest that the specimen may have been a fraud made up from the bones of several different animals. A meeting of The Geological Society was called in 1924 and this concluded that the plesiosaur specimens were genuine. Cuvier later admitted that he had been mistaken.

It is believed that Mary Anning never “improved” her specimens but the same is not true for other collectors of that era. However, that is another story.

You can read more about Mary Anning, William Coneybeare and other scientists here.


Dinosaur Mike said...

Perhaps the scepticism was due to the fact that a woman had been prominent in the discovery. Such were the attitudes towards women in the sciences during the 19th Century

Andrew said...

Good point. There is a temporary exhibition in the museum at the moment called "Mary Anning and the Men of Science" which discusses some of the obstacles she encountered... although she was well respected by many of her male peers.