Mary Anning, English fossil collector

This video from England is called Mary Anning and the Jurassic Coast of England.


Born This Day: Mary Anning

March 9, 1799 – May 21, 1847

From Today in Science History:

Mary was an English fossil collector who made her first significant discovery at the age of 11 or 12 (sources differ on the details), when she found a complete skeleton of an Ichthyosaurus, from the Jurassic period.

The ten-meter (30 feet) long skeleton created a sensation and made her famous.

Anning’s determination and keen scientific interest in fossils derived from her father’s interest in fossil hunting, and a need for the income derived from them to support her family after his death, in 1810.

She sold large fossils to noted paleontologists of the day, and smaller ones to the tourist trade.

In 1823, Anning made another great discovery, found the first complete Plesiosaurus.

Later in her life, the Geological Society of London granted Anning an honorary membership.

Sir Richard Owen: here.

Gideon Mantell: here.

12 thoughts on “Mary Anning, English fossil collector

  1. Digging for dinos on Englands coast

    On the Jurassic Coast, finding fossils is facile

    By Shelley Emling

    Sunday, October 18, 2009

    LYME REGIS, England – Away from Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, red double-deckers and the spewing granite fountains of Trafalgar Square sprawls a unique shoreline — England’s Jurassic Coast — that’s one of the richest and most accessible fossil-hunting spots in the world.

    Located about 130 miles southwest of London, the shoreline that runs east and west of the quaint seaside village of Lyme Regis is just a small part of a 95-mile stretch of coast so special it was designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations in 2001, putting it on par with the Grand Canyon in Arizona and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

    With rocks spanning nearly 200 million years of the Earth’s history, this rocky coastline was where a dirt-poor English woman named Mary Anning pioneered the study of fossils in the early 1800s by discovering the bones of many of the world’s first pterosaurs, plesiosaurs, and ichthyosaurs.

    Her finds,which led countless skeptics to finally accept the idea of extinction, paved the way for the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin, whose “Origin of Species” marks its 150th anniversary this year.

    As it was in the early 1800s, the fossil market in this part of southern England is still alive and well.

    Indeed, shops selling every kind of fossil imaginable dot the cozy, winding streets of Lyme Regis that tumble down toward a promenade alive with amateur paleontologists, fish-and-chips restaurants and London residents eager to get away from the bustle of the capital city.

    No matter what the weather, visitors will find handfuls of mostly Wellington boot-clad fossil hunters, including many children, mucking about on the shoreline. Even locals continue to roam this most lovely of environments for tiny trilobites, ammonites, belemnites and, if they’re lucky, the remnants of the larger sea and land reptiles and dinosaurs of the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods.

    Only a few years ago, the bones of a 195-million-year-old Scelidosaurus, the earliest of the armored dinosaurs, dinosaurs that weighed half a ton, were uncovered in Lyme Regis. And more unusual bones are sure to be discovered in the future in the shore’s many cliffs as they continue to collapse into the sand.

    The town of Lyme Regis is a three- to four-hour drive from London, during which travelers will pass and be able to visit the perfect prehistoric geometry of Stonehenge.

    The seaside haven of Lyme Regis, with its famous harbor wall known as the Cobb was visited occasionally in the early 19th century by Jane Austen and also was used by John Fowles as a backdrop for his novel “The French Lieutenant’s Woman.” The tea rooms, craft stores and seafood restaurants are all worth visiting, in addition to the fossil shops, as is the superb Lyme Regis Museum, built on the site of the home Anning grew up in, where a permanent exhibition on the second floor tells her fascinating life story.

    But the main attraction remains the shoreline, where seemingly everyone carries a tiny pickax and hammer in their hand as well as the hopes of at least finding a few good ammonites before they go home.

    The shoreline’s cliffs are made up of a series of limestone ledges that alternate with bands of shale, a blue-gray mix known as Blue Lias.

    These cliffs are constantly being eroded by storms and high tides, and the result is the convenient laying out of rich seams of fossils on a daily basis. Indeed, the perfect time to search for fossils is on a falling tide and just as the retreating sea has re-deposited the fossils on the foreshore.

    The coastline might not be in the same league as the badlands of Montana when it comes to dinosaur fossils but it’s an excellent and extremely accessible locale for visitors to London eager to see another part of the country while also getting a nice taste of paleontology.

    The area is suitable for all ages, and amateur fossil hunters are encouraged to purchase or bring with them a hammer, pickax and eye protection to guard against spitting shards of rock.

    But even if you don’t have these items, many fossils can be found lying in the open among the rock pools and piles of pebbles along the shoreline.

    And when you do get back to London, you can check out the Natural History Museum on Cromwell Road, where Anning’s portrait and many of her treasures are on display.

    At the museum, you can take a peek at the latest cutting-edge natural history research — some two centuries after Anning got the ball rolling — at the new Darwin Center, which opened Sept. 15.

    If you go

    Getting there: You can rent a car to make the three-hour drive to Lyme Regis from London, stopping at Stonehenge along the way. Or you can take a train from London to the nearby town of Axminster, where you can catch a bus for the final 20-minute ride to Lyme Regis.

    Where to stay: Moonfleet Manor in nearby Weymouth ( is a gorgeous Georgian mansion that is extremely child-friendly with pools and children’s meals and an indoor playground. The Hotel Alexandra ( is located in Lyme Regis and has lovely views of the harbor and Lyme Bay.

    What to do: Visit Lyme Regis Museum, http://www.lyme

    Go fishing or dolphin watching, http://www.lymebayboat

    Have a pint at a pub such as the Volunteer Inn at 31 Broad St. in Lyme Regis.

    Take a guided fossil hunting tour, http://www.lymeregis You can find a few fossils without combing the shoreline by visiting a fossil shop. A good one is the Old Forge Fossil Shop at 15 Broad St. in Lyme Regis.

    For more tourist information on Lyme Regis and the Dorset coastline go to: or or call a travel agent.

    Shelley Emling is the author of ‘The Fossil Hunter,’ a biography of Mary Anning, published this month by Macmillan Palgrave.


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