Mary Anning (1799-1847)

Known throughout history as ‘the fossil hunter’ Mary Anning was fascinated with pre-historic life. A British born palaeontologist, she collected and dealt in fossils, and became a global star in her field, thanks to several finds she made right on her doorstep.

Fossil beds dating back to the Jurassic age were found in amongst the marine life in Lyme Regis by Mary Anning. Much of her work focussed on the Blue Lias Cliffs, an area that was subjected to landslides in the winter months. Although this natural process exposed undiscovered fossils, it also added human risk to the work, so much so, that Anning almost lost her life in 1833.

This fossil hunter’s CV includes discovering the first correctly identified Ichthyosaur skeleton, and the first two Plesiosaur skeletons. Important fish fossils, belemnite fossils containing ink sacks, and fossilised faeces, then known as bezoar stones, also formed part of her discoveries. Thanks to her efforts, Mary Anning became well-known in Britain, Europe, and America, and her work is widely known to have contributed to changes in 19th century thinking, on prehistoric life and the history of the earth. Despite this, she was a woman working in a man’s world, and as such was not always fully credited for her contributions, and was unable to join the Geological Society of London.  Today Mary Anning receives far more recognition for her work, and appeared in a list published by the Royal Society, featuring the ten British women who have had the most influence in the science world.