May: Mary Anning (1799-1847)
Who was Mary Anning?
Mary was a fossil collector and paleontologist born in Lyme Regis, England in 1799. Her father was an amateur fossil collector and, although it was unheard of for girls in Georgian times, Mary used to collect fossils with him. She became fascinated with fossils and taught herself geology and anatomy. She used to collect fossils that she found on the coast and sell them in her family’s shop.
What did she discover?
Anning famously discovered many Jurassic period fossils on the coast of Lyme Regis, and due to this it is now nicknamed ‘The Jurassic Coast’. In 1811 she was the first to find a complete skeleton of an Ichthyosaur which was a large marine reptile (it was over 5 metres in length!). Then in 1823 she made the most notable of her discoveries; she discovered the Plesiosaurus, an even larger marine reptile. She also found many other Jurassic fossils such as the remains of a pterosaur, which later came to be known as a Pterodactyl. At first, scientists were dubious as to whether the fossils she had found, particularly the Plesiosaurus, were genuine, but after some debate and study they realised that they were in fact real. Her discoveries, and her work, contributed greatly to our understanding of the Jurassic period and aided scientists in understanding the concept of extinction.
Why is she our scientist of the month?
As a woman in Georgian times, Mary had little formal education, yet she still taught herself many subjects including geology and anatomy. With this self-taught knowledge, she went on to make ground-breaking scientific discoveries. When she shared her work with fellow scientists, who at the time were all male, they did not credit her for her work despite the fact that she was the one who made the discoveries. Despite this, she did not let this misogynistic behaviour and lack of recognition stop her, as she carried on fossil hunting and is now finally recognised for her incredible discoveries. She deserves to be celebrated for all she has contributed to our understanding of Jurassic animals.
This month’s starter question…
What is the difference between a marine reptile and a dinosaur?
Written by Abigail Lawrence, Pearson Science's Qualifications Product Developer
Some information is sourced from the Natural History Museum website and from the Lyme Regis Museum.