A beautiful cathedral-like building, such as the London Natural History museum, can reinforce that common perception that science is somehow mystical and out of reach of the ordinary person. This institution goes out of its way; however, to make science accessible to everybody – and not just by offering free admittance. Yes, as soon as you enter you are confronted with mythical monsters and the famous scientists who studied them, but there are also exhibits relating to classifying and gathering data on every day ordinary things such as rocks and pebbles.
When you walk through the rocks and pebbles collection, the art work built into the fabric of the building reminds you that the ordinary and the extraordinary are connected.
In the central galley of the museum, there are great fossils there too, like the plesiosaur. But a closer look at the plaque under the plesiosaur sea monster reveals, Mary Anning – the “fossil woman” who was an amateur and a member of the working class; and moreover, a woman during a time when scientists were almost universally wealthy, Oxford/Cambridge educated, and male. Yet, Mary Anning made some of the most important fossil discoveries in history right in her home town of Dorsett. Her contributions were so significant that she achieved recognition from the Royal Academies of Britain during her lifetime. Her discoveries – now on display right in the heart of the greatest natural history museum in the world – continue to amaze and inspire new generations.
Charles Darwin did not live all that far from Dorsett, and he did not discover these fossils. She did!
By Frederick Krass