Images Cinema Williamstown, MA


Dr. Phoebe A. Cohen

Associate Professor of Geosciences, Williams College

Ammonite— Women pioneers in STEM

The film Ammonite is loosely based on the life of acclaimed paleontologist and fossil collector Mary Anning. Anning, a working class "amateur" paleontologist whose discoveries were often displayed in museums with no mention of her contributions, is something of a folk hero for women paleontologists today. In this talk, Dr. Phoebe Cohen reviews what we actually know about Anning, discuss how the movie portrays her life and work, and talk more broadly about the role that women played in the evolution of the field of paleontology over the last two centuries.

This event is part of our 2024 National Evening of Science on Screen.

Images Cinema Williamstown, 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

Phoebe Cohen is a paleontologist, geobiologist, teacher, and science communicator. Her research focuses on understanding the interactions between life and the earth system in deep time by integrating micropaleontological, geological, and biological lines of evidence. Phoebe is an Associate Professor at Williams College, where her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation and NASA. She is also the co-host of the forthcoming podcast Jax and Phoebe Make a Planet, and an advocate for inclusion and equity in the earth sciences and beyond.