Mary Anning: Facts About The Famous Fossil Collector

Here are some facts about Mary Anning, the fossil collector and paleontologist.

  • Mary Anning was born on 21st May 1799 in Lyme Regis, Dorset.
  • Her father, Richard Anning, was a cabinetmaker and amateur fossil hunter.

  • When she was only fifteen months old, Mary Anning survived being struck by lightning. She was in the arms of a neighbour under an elm tree, when a bolt of lightning struck the tree. The lightning killed the neighbour who was holding Mary, and it killed two other women, but Mary was unhurt.
  • Mary attended a Congregationalist Sunday School ans she learnt to read and write.
  • Her father often took Mary and her brother, Jospeh, fossil hunting around the cliffs of Lyme Regis. They sold their finds to tourists.
  •  When Mary’s father died in 1810, the remaining family members focused on growing their fossil hunting / selling business.
  • Mary became an expert fossil hunter. She spent days looking for fossils in the cliffs around Lyme Regis.
  • Fossil collecting was dangerous work. The cliffs could collapse at any moment and landslides were common. Mary’s dog, Tray, was killed when he was hit by falling rocks.

Mary Anning

  • She found her first complete Plesiosaurus skeleton on 10th December 1823. She also found various pterosaurs and a Squaloraja skeleton.
  • Mary had an incredible understanding of fossils and dinosaur skeletons. It was said that she could just glance at a fossil and immediately work out what it was and which dinosaur it came from.
  • Mary Anning and her family sold fossils to museums and collectors all over the world.
  • She was good friends with the geologists Henry De la Beche, William Buckland and Richard Owen.
  • Mary was also in contact with the geologist Adam Sedgwick, one of Charles Darwin‘s tutors.
  • Although she knew more about fossils than many of the experts who visited her in Lyme Regis, because she was a woman and because she was a member of the working class, she wasn’t completely accepted by the 19th century British scientific community.
  • Mary Anning died on 9th March 1847. She had breast cancer.
  • Charles Dickens wrote an article about Mary, celebrating her life and achievements.
  • Anning is one of the main characters in the book Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier.
  • Apparently, Mary Anning was the inspiration for Terry Sullivan’s tongue twister, She Sells Seashells.
  • Mary was good friends with Elizabeth Philpot, another fossil collector from Lyme Regis.

What next? Discover more facts about famous Victorians or visit our Victorians resources page.

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