Amherst Cinema Amherst, MA


Sara Pruss

Esther Cloudman Dunn Professor at Smith College

Ammonite— Colossal fossils: The trailblazing contributions of Mary Anning in the Heroic Age of Geology

Paleontologist Sara Pruss (Smith College) reviews some of the paleontological contributions of Mary Anning, and explores what aspects this film gets right and wrong about women paleontologists in the early 1800s of England. She also examines Mary’s historical place in the heroic age of geology.

Amherst Cinema Amherst, MA

Film Synopsis

Acclaimed paleontologist Mary Anning works alone selling common fossils to tourists to support her ailing mother, but a chance job offer changes her life when a visitor hires her to care for his wife.

In the 1840s, acclaimed self-taught palaeontologist Mary Anning works alone on the wild and brutal Southern English coastline of Lyme Regis. The days of her famed discoveries behind her, she now hunts for common fossils to sell to rich tourists to support herself and her ailing widowed mother. When one such tourist, Roderick Murchison, arrives in Lyme on the first leg of a European tour, he entrusts Mary with the care of his young wife Charlotte, who is recuperating from a personal tragedy. Mary, whose life is a daily struggle on the poverty line, cannot afford to turn him down but, proud and relentlessly passionate about her work, she clashes with her unwanted guest. They are two women from utterly different worlds. Yet despite the chasm between their social spheres and personalities, Mary and Charlotte discover they can each offer what the other has been searching for: the realization that they are not alone. It is the beginning of a passionate and all-consuming love affair that will defy all social bounds and alter the course of both lives irrevocably. [Sloan Science & Film]

Banner image courtesy of Neon

About the Speaker

After discovering a love for invertebrates and evolution as a child in Alaska, Sara Pruss graduated from the University of Rochester with a degree in Biology-Geology. She earned masters and doctoral degrees from the University of Southern California, and pursued a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University before arriving at Smith College in 2007. Sara has supervised more than 70 Smith College undergraduate students in her research group and has been funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the American Chemical Society. In recognition for her success in research, she was awarded the Esther Cloudman Dunn professorship by Smith College in 2022.