Famous Paleontologists and Their Discoveries

Here on Light Future Art, we like to share with you fun facts about dinosaurs, megafauna, the evolutionary origins of modern-day animals, and other fun prehistorical information. Today, however, we’re turning the spotlight on the people who study these animals. Here are some interesting facts about some of the most influential paleontologists.

Painting of Mary Anning
Mary Anning

1. Mary Anning was one of the first people to study fossils but unfortunately, as a woman and a religious dissenter (she split from the Church of England), she was kept out of scientific circles. There is a sort of legend about her which goes as follows: when just a baby she was being watched by three women and they were standing beneath a tree. Lightning struck this tree and the three women died. Mary nearly did, as well, but she was revived in a hot bath. Prior to this event, she was said to have been frequently ill but afterward, she was healthy and curious. Regardless of any truth to this legend, she certainly did flourish and became one of the most influential women in British history (an award given to her in 2010).




2. Xu Xing has named more dinosaurs than any other paleontologist alive today, and he’s still discovering more species. However, he says that he didn’t even know what a dinosaur was before going to college, due to the fact that he grew up very poor in a secluded town. He has said that he had planned to study economics but Chinese students at the time couldn’t choose their area of study and so he was told he had to study paleontology. Luckily for him, that’s working out very well.

3. Luis Walter Alvarez was the first to theorize that the cause of the mass extinction event which killed the dinosaurs was a meteor, and gathered information in Mexico to prove his claim. He also became interested in the footage of President Kennedy’s assassination and displayed evidence in court to disprove conspiracy theories about the event.

Photo of Barnum Brown
Barnum Brown



4. Barnum Brown (named after P.T. Barnum) was the first person to discover a fossil of Tyrannosaurus rex, though he wasn’t much of a serious paleontologist. During both World Wars, he served in the military in an intelligence capacity and, to earn some extra money on the side, he offered his services as a corporate spy to oil companies.



5. Margarethe Lenore Selenka-Heinemann studied apes and worked to find the evolutionary link between humans and modern-day apes. She also was a pacifist and served on a committee to try and prevent World War I, as well as champion women’s suffrage in Germany in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Due to her involvement with the peace conference, she was put under house arrest by the German government, which viewed pacifists at the time as dangerous.


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