Fossil hunter Mary Anning pictured in prime for first time thanks to AI
For years she has been depicted as a frumpy palaeontologist in a bonnet and big, unflattering frock.
But now Mary Anning, Britain's first professional fossil hunter, has been recreated as she might have looked in her prime.
While she has been memorialised extensively, most recently by Kate Winslet in the film Ammonite, her biographer Wolfgang Grulke found that teenagers find it difficult to relate to her.
The only surviving portrait of Anning painted in her lifetime depicts her as a stout, middle-aged woman in a heavy Victorian dress and straw bonnet, holding a wicker basket - and holding a geological hammer. It is a copy of a painting, now lost, made two years before her death aged 47 in 1847.
“When I talk to school children I put up the usual picture of Mary Anning and ask if they recognise her and they say ‘yes’," Mr Grulke, one of the country's foremost fossil collectors, told the Telegraph. "Then I ask ‘what age do you think this lady is?’. Typically they say ‘she looks like my grandmother’.
"There are no pictures of her in her teens and 20s when she made these amazing discoveries.”
Mr Grulke tells her story in a new biography, She Sold Seashells - the Curious Mary Anning Re-imagined, which is illustrated with images of her generated by the latest artificial intelligence.
“Mary Anning is one of those important people we have no images of, other than one made shortly before she died," he said. "She never reached the level where it was deemed appropriate to have a portrait painted of her."
Mr Grulke, who made his name advising businesses on future trends and now houses his own fossil collection in a private museum at his Dorset home, is taking part in the Midjourney AI project which creates images from words.
"That iconic image of her aged about 45 was really the only thing that Midjourney knew about Mary Anning when I started," he said. "Then I began inputting more descriptive prompts such as 'Lyme Regis in 1810' and 'Mary Anning walking on the beach with her brother who was two years older carrying ammonites'.
"Midjourney didn't have a clue what an ammonite was, but with millions of people inputting information every day it is a quick learner."
For Mr Grulke's new book - named for the She Sells Sea Shells nursery rhyme, which Anning inspired - he compiled 100 images created by AI.
Midjourney is one of dozens of AI engines currently under development. Users input written "prompts" which it uses to build a picture. The resulting image is synthesised so the final result is not a montage of existing images or from one single source.
The images of Anning which show her at different ages are not supposed to be accurate portraits and it is unlikely members of her family would have recognised her.
Anning was born 224 years ago in 1799 when most working-class women faced a choice of marriage or domestic service. Despite her lack of formal education, she became an expert on the fossils found in the cliffs around her home town of Lyme Regis.
She was 12 when she and her brother Joseph made their first major discovery, the four-foot long fossilised skull of an ichthyosaur. She called it a "sea dragon", an extinct creature then unknown to science. It was in her teens and early twenties that she made her most significant discoveries, including the first fossil plesiosaur and a flying reptile known as a pterosaur.
While many of her finds went to the Natural History Museum and collections around the world, private conversations revealed her frustration when older, male collectors failed to acknowledge that she had found and prepared fossils they claimed as their own. In the male-dominated 19th century, the newly founded Geological Society refused to allow women to attend lectures.
It was partly thanks to Anning’s discoveries that it was accepted that the world was somewhat older than the 6,000 years calculated by James Ussher, an Anglican bishop of Armagh, using chronologies and family trees listed in the Bible. Her discoveries helped inspire Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and in 2010, 163 years after her death, the Royal Society recognised Anning as one of the 10 most influential female British scientists who has ever lived.
After Mr Grulke had finished working on the images of a young Anning he took them to Lyme Regis Museum, which is built on the site of her former home.
“They were delighted and said that’s exactly what we need to make her story attractive to a younger age group," he said. "That’s when we decided to do the book.”
She Sold Seashells - the Curious Mary Anning Re-imagined is published on May 21.