Mary Anning was the greatest fossil finder the world every knew. Equipped with a relentless determination and passion for science, this leading scientific figure helped to shaped our understanding of the history of our earth.
Continuing our series on Giants of Science here we're going to take closer look at this pioneering figure, who managed to make a name for herself in what was very much a man's world.
Fossils - The Family Business
'She sells sea shells by the sea shore' - remember this popular tongue twister ? Well it turns out you've got Marie Anning to thanks for inspiring this rhyme!
Mary Anning was Born in 1799 into a working class family in Lyme Regis, on the Dorset coast. Anning's father Richard was a cabinet maker but also spent some of his free time collecting fossils and it was he who first taught her to hunt for fossils.
The cliffs surrounding Lyme Regis were - and still are - a fossil hunters paradise. Rich in an array of fantastic fossils deposited from the Jurassic seas 200 million years ago, they are home to a wealth of hidden treasures.
The father and daughter duo set up a stall along the seafront where they sold the various curiosities they had collected. So popular was this stall many believe that it was Mary Anning herself who inspired the aforementioned tongue twister.
Unfortunately Anning's father died in 1810, following a battle with consumption. His untimely passing brought great hardship upon the family. But not to be defeated Anning continued to sell her curiosities to help supplement her family's income.
Luckily there were plenty of fossils to be discovered, with the movements of the seas constantly uncovering new finds. But that said, this was dangerous work too, largely owing to the unforgiving seas, steep cliffs and treacherous tides.
Anning made her first major find in 1811 after her brother Joseph found a large skull protruding from a cliff. In the months that followed Mary painstakingly uncovered almost an entire skeleton of what she believed at the time to be a crocodile.
Further examination revealed that in reality this was no crocodile, but rather the first complete Ichthypsaurus - or fish lizard- ever seen! This find brought Marie Anning to the attention of the scientific community and established her reputation as a first rate fossil hunter.
Following this spectacular find, Anning continued to support herself and her family by continuing to uncover an impressive selection of fossils. Some of her most notable finds included the discovery of a Plesiosaurus in 1823, appropriately nicknamed the 'sea-dragon', and her discovery in 1828 of a Pterodactyles - a type of flying dinosaur!
Despite receiving no formal training, Anning managed to make a name for herself as one of the foremost fossil hunters of her generation. She taught herself anatomy, geology, and paleontology - a testament to her passion and determination - and became an expert in these fields.
Unfortunately Anning was born into what was very much a man's world and many doors in the scientific world were closed to her. In spite of this, during her lifetime she was visited by, and in correspondence with, a number of eminent scientists who sought out her valuable opinions.
A Lasting Legacy
Anning died of breast cancer in 1847 at the age of only 47. But her legacy continues to live on today. Anning has proved to be an inspiration to many and is responsible for inspiring many of today's experts in the fields of geology and palaeontology.
The spectacular fossils Anning found forced the scientific community to rethink many of the explanations they had developed for the history of our earth and provided evidence that proved essential to the development of new theories regarding the origins of life on earth.
We hope you have enjoyed the quick look at the truly inspirational Mary Anning, who is undeniably one of the greatest female scientists that ever lived!
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