Events / History

Maps, Meteorites, Mary Anning and the Missing Link


Museum Lates have become a familiar feature in London – everyone from the Science Museum to the Tate Modern are opening up for evening visitors. Two weeks ago, we participated in our first Courtyard Lates event – the second of a three part series of evening events at Burlington House.

Visitors stopped by for a range of pre booked and drop in talks, brought to life by our archives and special collections. Meanwhile, all of the other organisations surrounding the Burlington House courtyard were also open for talks, performances, debates and even a spot of poetry.

Over 70 members of the public visited our ‘Geological salon’ featuring four pre lecture ‘lightening talks’ before Paul Henderson spoke on ‘Meteorites: Stones said to have fallen from the clouds.’

anning letter

Letter from Mary Anning to Charlotte Murchison, ?1833. Image c. Geological Society Library

In our Lower Library, Tom Sharpe gave a talk about Mary Anning and the identification of the Jurassic marine reptiles she discovered. On display were a number of Anning’s letters, including that in which she laments the death of her dog, Tray in a landslide (‘it was but a moment between me and the same fate’.) There were also a number of contemporary illustrations of the fossils Anning discovered on display.

Early lithograph of an Ichthyosaur from 1819. Image c. Geological Society Library

Early lithograph of an Ichthyosaur from 1819. Image c. Geological Society Library


Meanwhile, in our entrance hall, John Henry and Duncan Hawley delivered a ‘compare and contrast’ talk about our William Smith and Greenough maps – the first geological maps of Britain.


John Henry and Duncan Hawley discussing the Smith and Greenough maps in our entrance hall.

And in our Council Room, David Bate of the British Geological Survey talked about ‘The men who made Piltdown’ – the most notorious scientific fraud of the 20th century, a depiction of which hangs in the Council Room, painted before the hoax was exposed.

400 x Piltdown 1

David Bate on the men who made Piltdown

It was claimed that Piltdown Man was not merely the ‘Earliest Englishman’ but the long predicted and sought after ‘missing link’ between man and the apes. The human-like skull and ape-like jaw had been discovered in a Sussex gravel pit a few years earlier and first exhibited at the Geological Society in 1912. It took until 1953 for the bones to be re-examined and shown to be the jaw of an orang-utan and a 500 year old skull.

Visitors with the Society's meteorite

Visitors with the Society’s meteorite

Following Paul Henderson’s talk in our Library, visitors had the opportunity to view some of our collections relating to meteorites – and even to handle the Society’s own meteorite, donated in 1822!

We had a fantastic evening – thanks to everyone who came along, and to all our speakers.

The next Courtyard Late is happening on Friday 26 August, and features the Society of Antiquaries, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Royal Academy of Arts.

For more on all of the talks featured in our geological salon, and to view a gallery of images from the night, visit our website.

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