She Sold Sea Shells on the Sea Shore

She sells seashells on the seashore

We have all heard this tongue twister. We have all tried saying it aloud faster and faster. We have all failed at some point.

But have we ever wondered who this ‘she’ is?

Where is she?

And Why is she selling seashells on the seashore?

Who gave her permission?

Is she paying her taxes?

Is there a buy 1 get 1 free offer?

Are the seashells genuine or made in China?

So many questions, right.

She sells seashells on the seashore
The shells she sells are seashells, I’m sure
So if she sells seashells on the seashore
Then I’m sure she sells seashore shells.

That’s the full poem.  It was created by Terry Sullivan as a homage to a woman called Mary Anning. In 1978, P.J. McCartney confirmed it..

Mary Anning was born on 21 May 1799, in Dorset, England. Her family used to dig up fossils and sell them to people who visited the coast. They operated on a Jurassic coast, stretching along the English coast in the southern England. Its a World Heritage Site now. They had a stall on the seafront.

From a very young age, Mary and her brother learnt how to recognize, collect, label and catalog the various fossils and remains.

In 1810, Mary’s father died after falling from a cliff.

Mary was forced to run the family business full-time in order to provided for her younger siblings. When she was just 12 years old, Mary and her brother unearthed the skull of a four-foot “Ichthyosaur”, a prehistoric stealthy sea giant that thrived over 250 million years ago. The siblings dug out the rest of the skeleton a couple of months later, and the discovery brought them attention worldwide. Mary also unearthed fossils of plesiosaurs and pterosaur.

When her findings were displayed, it attracted the interest of archaeologists and researchers. A notable geologist called Henry De la Beche started to create illustrations of the unearthed life forms in their natural habitat. All illustrations were based on the fossils found by Anning. La Beche generously gave the revenue from the illustrations to Mary as she was struggling financially.

Mary taught herself geology, paleontology, anatomy and scientific illustration. She corresponded with, provided fossils for and sometimes hunted with well-known scientists of the time, such as William Buckland and Richard Owen (who coined the word “dinosaur” in 1842). She became one of the most prolific fossil hunters of the time, discovering more ichthyosaurs along with long-necked plesiosaurs, a pterodactyl and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other fossils.

In 1897, Mary died of cancer at the age of 47.

Charles Dickens was one of the first famous people to praise her in a wandering tribute, 18 years following her death. Throughout the 20th-century, a number of other authors acknowledged Anning’s life as inspirational.

The Geological Society marked her in a president’s address (a rare honor) in 1898.

The Natural History Museum in London has made her and her finds the main attraction of their Fossil Marine Reptiles gallery. The Lyme Regis Museum stands on the site of her birth. The Geological Society has placed one of her ichthyosaur skulls and a portrait of her and her dog in their front reception hall.

Mary Anning was not a trained scientist with a degree, but her findings changed the face of science forever.


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