Mary Anning (1799-1847) was a fossil hunter who lived in Lyme Regis, England.

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Dinosaur Jungle   >   Dinosaur Scientists   >   Mary Anning


Mary Anning

Mary Anning
Mary Anning (1799-1847) was a famous fossil hunter who lived in Lyme Regis, England - a part of the country which is today known as the Jurassic Coast.

In 1811, aged just 12, Anning discovered the fossilized skeleton of an Ichthyosaur (this specimen is now in London's Natural History Museum). Although Ichthyosaurs had been known from fragments since at least 1699, this was the first complete skeleton found - Mary first found the skull, and only later found the rest of the animal after a storm washed away the part of a cliff which contained it. Anning subsequently went on to discover two more species of Ichthyosaur.

Anning's later finds included a Plesiosaur in 1821, and Pterosaur (the first complete specimen, and the first found outside of Germany) in 1828.

Mary Anning's discoveries were important because they helped establish the fact of extinction. Until then, many people had argued that God would not allow any species to become extinct (as that would imply an imperfect creation), and thus the strange animals found in fossils were still alive in some region of the planet. However, the truly bizarre nature of the animals found by Anning, help contribute to making such arguments seem unlikely.

In life, Anning was recognized by the British Association for the Advancement of Science, being granted an annuity when in her thirties. As a woman, she was not eligible for the standard membership of the Geological Society of London, but she was however granted honorary membership.

Anning sadly died aged just 47. She was commemorated by a stained-glass window in the church of St Michael the Archangel in Lyme Regis. She was however largely forgotten after her death, until interest in her revived in more recent times. She is referred to in John Fowles' 1969 novel, The French Lieutenant's Woman, and today there is a display about her in London's Natural History Museum. Additionally, some people claim that the tongue twister that begins "She sells sea shells by the sea shore" was inspired by Mary Anning.

Plesiosaurus macrocephalus found by Mary Anning:
Plesiosaurus macrocephalus found by Mary Anning

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