Mary Anning

My name is Mary Anning.


I was a 19th century English fossil collector, dealer, and paleontologist who became known worldwide for the important discoveries I made in the Jurassic marine fossil beds where I lived.


My status as an unmarried, working class woman and religious dissenter, as well as my lack of formal education, barred me from actively participating in the scientific community.


Despite these disadvantages, I would go on to revolutionize the field of paleontology, and change how we think about earth’s history, evolution, and the world at large.



My father taught me to scour the cliffs of Lyme Regis for fossils, which I sold to tourists in order to supplement our family’s income—first from a table outside our cottage, and later from shops in town. I taught myself about rocks and anatomy, and learned to draw detailed depictions of my finds.


At the time, people knew little about the strange bones and objects found on the beach, and how they had come to be there. Most still believed that the earth was only 6000 years old, and the idea of extinction had yet to be solidified. They assumed that the fossils belonged to “monsters”, which had simply migrated deeper into the sea. My discoveries would help challenge those ideas.


Mary Anning’s first major discovery was the first correctly identified Ichthyosaur, found alongside her brother when she was only 12 years old. They sold it to a collector for £23, and it later ended up displayed in the British Natural History Museum.


She was involved in the discovery of several other ancient animals contemporary with dinosaurs, including two complete plesiosaur skeletons (one becoming the type specimen, the other a new species), the first pterosaur found outside of Germany, and significant fish fossils such as Squaloraja.


Her observations were key to the discovery that coprolites were actually fossilized faeces, after dissections revealed the presence of fish scales. She also made note of the similarities between the ink chambers of fossilized belemnites and modern cephalopods, lending early support to the theory of evolution which would gain ground after her death.




Mary had a small circle of friends and colleagues who boosted her findings, and supported her when she fell on hard times—selling prints such as this one (based on her discoveries) and securing a small pension for her continued work.

For the most part, however, Mary remained uncredited. She was called upon globally by male scientists for her expertise and insight, who published papers that made little to no mention of her scientific contributions.

The only scientific writing of hers published in her lifetime was an excerpt from a letter she wrote to the Magazine of Natural History, questioning one of its claims.

When she died, her obituary was published by the London Geological Society—who wouldn’t admit women for another 57 years.


Today, Mary Anning has gained the recognition she was denied during life. In 2010, the Royal Society included her in a list of the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science (#3).

You can learn more about Mary Anning, and her vast influence on the field of paleontology, at the Lyme Regis Museum:

Ichthyosaur / Plesiosaur

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