Mary Anning

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Mary Anning (21 May 1799 – 9 March 1847) was a British fossil collector, dealer and palaeontologist who became known around the world for having made a number of important finds in the Jurassic age marine fossil beds at Lyme Regis where she lived.[2] Her work contributed to the fundamental changes in scientific thinking about prehistoric life and the history of the earth that occurred in the early 19th century.

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 belemnite fossils contained fossilised ink sacs, and that coprolites, known as bezoar stones at the time, were fossilised faeces. When geologist Henry De la Beche painted Duria Antiquior, the first widely circulated pictorial representation of prehistoric life based on fossil reconstructions, he based it largely on fossils Anning had found, and sold prints of it for her benefit.

Anning's sex and social class prevented her from fully participating in the scientific community of 19th-century Britain, dominated as it was by wealthy Anglican gentlemen. She struggled financially for much of her life—her family were poor, religious dissenters and her father, a cabinetmaker, died when she was eleven. Although she became well known in geological circles in Britain, Europe and America, she was not eligible to join the Geological Society of London because she was a woman, and did not always receive full credit for her contributions; indeed she wrote in a letter: "The world has used me so unkindly, I fear it has made me suspicious of everyone."[3] The only scientific writing of hers published in her lifetime was an extract from a letter she wrote in 1839 to the Magazine of Natural History questioning one of its claims.[4] After her death her unusual life story attracted increasing interest. Charles Dickens wrote of her in 1865 that "[t]he carpenter's daughter has won a name for herself, and has deserved to win it."[3] A panel of experts invited by the Royal Society in 2010 included Anning in a list of the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science.[5]


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