by Eleanor Gardner & Shari Ellis
The Lyme Regis Philpot Museum in the UK is adding a new extension to their institution to be known as The Mary Anning Wing. The honor is fitting as the first female paleontologist lived her entire life in Lyme Regis, a town along Britain’s “Jurassic Coast.” Born in 1799, Mary Anning began collecting fossils as a young girl with her working-class family as a means to gain extra income. After the death of her father, Mary used her self-taught fossil preparation techniques (even creating her own preparation tools!) to prepare fossils and sell them in order to continue supporting her family. This is where the tongue twister “She sells seashells at the seashore” came from. About a year after her father’s death, she and her brother discovered the first ichythyosaur known to the scientific community in London. Eventually, word spread about Mary’s beautifully prepared fossils and her specimens became highly sought-after by museums and scientists across Europe. Her most scientifically important find was the discovery of the first nearly complete plesiosaur skeleton. She also found the first pterosaur fossil outside of Germany. Additionally, Mary was an expert in identifying trace fossils such as footprints, and was among the first to correctly identify coprolites, originally called ‘bezoar stones,’ as fossilized feces.
Although she communicated regularly with some of the most prominent scientists of the time, Anning rarely received full credit for her contributions. All of her discoveries were published by men because women were not allowed to write scientific articles;nor could she join any scientific organizations of the day. Sadly, after her death, she was largely forgotten. In 2010, the Royal Society of London voted her one of the 10 women in British history who made the greatest influence in science. She was also the inspiration for the best-selling novel Remarkable Creatures.
To help fund the Mary Anning Wing, please visit http://www.lymeregismuseum.co.uk/about-us/mary-anning-wing/
To learn more about Mary Anning:
Listen to a podcast about Mary Anning at missedinhistory.com
Read about Mary Anning on the American Museum of Natural History website
See the “Jurassic Cliffs” in this short video about Mary Anning at smithsonian.com
Books inspired by the story of Mary Anning:
Chevalier, Tracy. (2010). Remarkable Creatures. Penguin Books. (Historical fiction)
Emling, Shelley. (2011). The Fossil Hunter: Dinosaurs, Evolution, and the Woman Whose Discoveries Changed the World. St. Martin’s Griffin.
Anholt, Lawrence. (2006). Stone Girl Bone Girl: The Story of Mary Anning. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. (for Grades 1 – 4).
To learn more about the fossils of the Jurassic Coast:
Visit the Jurassic Coast World Heritage website