Vestiges from a time long past: Lyme Regis and three female paleontologists


My article on Mary Anning, Mary Buckland and Charlotte Murchison who lived exciting times in Paleontology in the 19th century got recently published on the Biologos website.

This was a great opportunity to deeply delve into their lives, their views, and discoveries, but also into the “Jurassic Coast”, the coastline from East Devon to Dorset, with rocks recording 185 million years of the Earth’s history. And in Dorset is Lyme Regis, the home town of Mary Anning.  In the early 19th century, Lyme Regis in Dorset was a very frequented seaside resort famous for its beauty where many of the upper classes spent their time during summer. The town had well-built houses which, though numerous, are still often incapable of containing all the people that visited it during the season. Lyme offered its visitors walks and drives, shops, assembly rooms, baths and cures for invalids. One of Lyme’s main attractions was the Cobb, a long harbor wall that stretches into the sea. The harbor, at times more important than the port of Liverpool, dates back to the 13th century.

Jane Austen visited the place in 1804, and in her last novel ‘Persuasion’, she describes the place as follows:

[A]s there is nothing to admire in the buildings themselves, the remarkable situation of the town, the principal street almost hurrying into the water, the walk to the Cobb, skirting round the pleasant little bay, which, in the season, is animated with bathing machines and company; the Cobb itself, its old wonders and new improvements, with the very beautiful line of cliffs stretching out to the east of the town, are what the stranger’s eye will seek; and a very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better. The scenes in its neighbourhood, Charmouth, with its high grounds and extensive sweeps of country, and still more, its sweet, retired bay, backed by dark cliffs, where fragments of low rock among the sands, make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, for sitting in unwearied contemplation; the woody varieties of the cheerful village of Up Lyme; and, above all, Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks, where the scattered forest trees and orchards of luxuriant growth, declare that many a generation must have passed away since the first partial falling of the cliff prepared the ground for such a state, where a scene so wonderful and so lovely is exhibited, as may more than equal any of the resembling scenes of the far-famed Isle of Wight: these places must be visited, and visited again, to make the worth of Lyme understood.

If you haven’t read the book, you should put in your reading list!

Another recommendation is this wonderful documentary “Walking through time – Britains Jurassic Coast” with Dr. Tori Herridge, a palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum in London: