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Mary Anning, Fossil Hunter

Updated on October 8, 2014

Mary Anning of Lyme Regis, England

Mary Anning was an English woman famous for finding fossils along the seashore at Lyme Regis. She discovered some of the first extinct sea creature skeletons along the Jurassic Coast of England.

She picked up fossils to sell in her family's curiosities shop in Lyme Regis, and the tongue twister "She sells seashells by the seashore" is believed to have been written about her.

Photo of a Painting: Portrait of Mary Anning with her dog Tray and the Golden Cap outcrop in the background, Natural History Museum, London. This painting was owned by her brother Joseph, and presented to the museum in 1935 by Miss Annette Anning.

Photo Credit: Credited to 'Mr. Grey' in Crispin Tickell's book 'Mary Anning of Lyme Regis' (1996) in the public domain.

Plaque at the site of Mary Anning's home and shop.
Plaque at the site of Mary Anning's home and shop.

Mary Anning Biography

Learn a little about this fascinating fossil pioneer

Mary Anning was born on May 21, 1799, in Lyme Regis along the Dorset Coast of England to Richard and Mary Anning. She had one living sibling, a brother Joseph. Eight other siblings died in infancy.

As a young child, Mary was struck by lightning but survived. Three other people, including the woman who was holding her, were killed.

As children, she and Joseph hunted fossils along the Lyme Bay under the dangerous high cliffs. Her father had a woodworking business and a storefront shop where they sold the "curiosities" or "curies" they collected from the seashore.

In 1810, Richard Anning, Mary's father died. Her family was left to fend for themselves and lived hand to mouth. Mary and her brother continued to collect ammonites and belemnites, among other finds, from the seashore to sell to tourists who visited the Lyme region.

In 1811, Joseph and Mary discovered what they thought were the skull and almost complete skeleton of a crocodile. This "creature" was a major find, which put Mary on the map as a serious fossil hunter after it was sold to local Lord Henry Hoste Henley who then sold it to William Bullock to display in the Museum of Natural Curiosities in London.

The "crocodile" was later named Ichthyosaurus, which means fish lizard. Mary's reputation as an expert fossil hunter was further enhanced when a sale of specimens at auction by Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas James Birch brought £400. This money was donated to the Anning family. The publicity brought Mary fame and respect from scientists who worked with her to discover more geologic finds.

Another of Mary's discoveries was that ink from squid-like belemnites could be ground to use as drawing ink.

Mary Anning died in Lyme Regis in 1847 from breast cancer.

Source: Natural History Museum, United Kingdom

Photo Credit: Gaius Cornelius 18:06, 14 August 2006 (UTC), in the public domain.

Books about the Life of Mary Anning - Introduce Mary Anning to Children with These Books

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier - A Novel Based on Mary Anning's Life

Remarkable Creatures, a novel, is a fictional account of Mary Anning and was my introduction to this remarkable woman. I'd read several of Tracy Chevalier's novels (her most famous novel is Girl with a Pearl Earring that was made into a movie with Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson) and knew I'd enjoy it, but this book is actually based on the life of a real person.

From the Postscript, The reader's patience, of Remarkable Creatures, Chevalier writes, "Remarkable Creatures is a work of fiction, but many of the people existed, and events such as Colonel Birch's auction and the Geological Society meeting where Colybeare talked about the plesiosaur did take place. And Mary did indeed write at the bottom of a scientific paper she had copied out: 'When I write a paper there shall not be but one preface.' Sadly she never did write her own scientific paper."

Learn More About Geology - and Fossils and Ammonites

Author Tracy Chevaleir - Interviewed about Remarkable Creatures

She Sells Seashells by the Seashore - Gifts for Sea Lovers

According to legend, the tongue twister "She sells seashells by the seashore" was written about Mary Anning. Her family did sell the fossils they found in a shop in Lyme Regis, Dorset, England.

Bathing Machines Were Used in the 1800s - and are mentioned in the novel Remarkable Creatures

According to the freedictionary, a bathing machine was a small hut, on wheels so that it could be pulled to the sea, used in the 18th and 19th centuries for bathers to change their clothes.

More Background on Mary Anning - by Author Tracy Chevalier

For more information about Tracy Chevalier's research and findings on Mary Anning, check out these links.

Lyme Regis, England - Learn More About the Jurassic Coast

Affiliate Disclosure

This author, Peggy Hazelwood, participates in Amazon, eBay, All Posters, and other affiliate advertising programs. When you click an advertising link on this page and make a purchase, I receive a small percent of the sale. Thank you for reading this far!

Let me know you dropped by to read about Mary Anning, fossil hunter.

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    • Scarlettohairy profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Hazelwood 

      5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      @bloggerjon: Wow, how lucky are you!?

    • bloggerjon profile image

      bloggerjon 

      6 years ago

      Interesting lens on a great subject. I fossil hunt at Lyme Regis and Charmouth, the same coastline Mary Anning used to fossil hunt on.

    • Ben Reed profile image

      Ben Reed 

      6 years ago from Redcar

      I love fossils and I found this lense very interesting - thank you.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      6 years ago from Central Florida

      Fascinating woman. I'd not heard about her before. You've showcased her well.

    • profile image

      MaggiePowell 

      6 years ago

      nice lens... I've attached it to my Fossil Hunting lens

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 

      6 years ago from Land of Aloha

      This was a really interesting page. I can't believe she survived being hit by lightning as a child and then died of something as common and devestating as breast cancer at the age of 48. It's weird how life goes sometimes.

    • ngio64 profile image

      ngio64 

      6 years ago

      very interesting, Blessed!

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image

      hntrssthmpsn 

      6 years ago

      Fossils were one of my big passions as a little girl. Awesome lens! I'd never heard of Mary Anning, but have added her bio to the ever-growing list of potential good reads!

    • gottaloveit2 profile image

      gottaloveit2 

      6 years ago

      We have an area here in maryland where you can routinely find 1000 year old shark teeth. It's a pretty fascinating place to spend an afternoon. Every other rock is some sort of fossil.

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