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Mary Anning: Regency Paleontologist

Mary Anning: Regency Paleontologist “[T]he carpenter’s daughter has won a name for herself, and has deserved to win it.” -Charles Dickens February, 1865 Mary with her dog, Tray, painted before 1842, the Golden Cap outcrop can be seen in the background Mary Anning (21 May 1799 – 9 March 1847) was a British fossil collector, dealer, and paleontologist who became known around the world for a number of important finds she made in the Jurassic marine fossil beds at Lyme Regis in Dorset, where she lived. Her work contributed to fundamental changes that occurred during her lifetime in scientific thinking about prehistoric life and the history of the Earth. Anning searched for fossils in the area’s Blue Lias cliffs, particularly during the winter months when landslides exposed new fossils that had to be collected quickly before they were lost to the sea. It was dangerous work, and she nearly lost her life in 1833 during a landslide that killed her dog, Tray. Her discoveries included the first ichthyosaur skeleton to be correctly identified, which she and her brother Joseph found when she was just twelve years old; the first two plesiosaur skeletons ever found; the first pterosaur skeleton located outside Germany; and some important fish fossils. Her observations played a key role in the discovery that coprolites, known as bezoar stones at the time, were fossilised faeces. She also discovered that belemnite fossils contained fossilised ink sacs like those of modern cephalopods. When geologist Henry De la Beche painted Duria Antiquior, the first (more…)