Mary Anning Biography
Died At Age: 47
Sun Sign: Taurus
Born Country: England
Born in: Lyme Regis, Dorset, England, United Kingdom
Famous as: Paleontologist
father: Richard Anning
mother: Mary Moore
siblings: Joseph Anning, Mary Anning
place of death: Lyme Regis, Dorset, England, United Kingdom
Cause of Death: Cancer
Mary Anning, a British fossil collector, and paleontologist, is considered to be the woman who discovered dinosaurs. She lived on the coast of the English Channel in the Jurassic fossil beds and is named amongst one of the most important figures in the history of science, as her discoveries led to key evidences for the theory of extinction. She was a determined person and did not let her poverty or lack of a formal education stop her from learning more about the fossils she was finding. Anning worked diligently, learnt the scientific words, and even taught herself French in order to read the works of Georges Cuvier, who is considered to be the Father of Paleontology. She would also dissect modern animals like cuttle-fish to understand their anatomy better. However, in spite of all her achievements, she never saw financial abundance, nor did she get credits or mentions in scientific papers for many of her discoveries. Nonetheless, after her death her story was taken up by writers and poets as an inspiration to many people who wish to pursue a career in Paleontology.
- Mary Anning was born in Lyme Regis on 21st May 1799, to a carpenter & fossil seller Richard Anning and his wife Mary Moore. They had 10 children out of whom, only Mary and her brother Joseph survived.
- Anning learnt a lot from her father while she helped him look for fossils, which they would sell to tourists. However, her father passed away in 1810, leaving the family under debt, and forced to continue running the fossil-selling business.
- Mary Anning’s first major discovery was a co-credit with her brother, when they found the remains of an ichthyosaur. Although, it earned the family a mere 23 pounds at that time, it is considered a momentous find.
- In 1820, the family was going through a severe financial crisis, which motivated their regular customer, Lincolnshire collector Thomas Birch, to hold an auction on their behalf in London. This auction raised 400 pounds and also made the Anning family a well-known name in the geological fraternity.
- She opened a new shop called Anning’s Fossil Depot in 1826, and her business was covered by the local newspapers. This store attracted numerous visitors to Lyme Regis, many of whom regularly corresponded with her, sharing knowledge and seeking her opinion. It included British geologists Henry De la Beche, William Buckland, and Roderick Murchison & his wife Charlotte, Scottish geologist Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin’s professor from Cambridge University, Adam Sedgwick.
- Her 1824 discovery of fossil poop helped in multiple studies which enabled the scientists to understand diets of dinosaurs.
- By 1830, Mary Anning had discovered the Plesiosaurus, flying-reptile Pterosaur, and fossil fish Squaloraja, making her extremely popular amongst the scientists of that time. Her discoveries inspired and featured in the famous watercolor painting by De la Beche called ‘Duria Antiquior’.
- In 1833, she almost lost her life in a landslide that killed her dog Tray who was very close to her, thus highlighting the risks involved in the work she continued to do.
- In 1834, Louis Agassiz, a Swiss paleontologist, visited Lyme to work with Mary Anning, and extends his thanks to her, for all her help, with his book called ‘Studies of Fossil Fish’.
- The next year brought another phase of financial struggle for her, as she lost 300 pounds over a bad-investment. However, with the help of her friend William Buckland, she secured an annuity of 25 pounds from the British Association for the Advancement of Science.
- In 1811, Mary Anning was 12-years-old when she dug up the pieces of an ichthyosaur, which matched the skull that was found by her brother Joseph a few months before. This skeleton was the basis on which, the first ever scientific research paper, was published about the species. It was written by Everard Home in 1814, making the discovery play an important role in the advancement of paleontology. This ichthyosaur was a ‘Temnodontosaurus platyodon’ that was displayed at London’s British Museum by the year 1819.
- On 10 December 1823 Anning discovered the first-ever Plesiosaurus and captured the complete fossil in a scientific drawing. Initially it was considered to be a fake, however after close examination Cuvier declared it to be authentic, making Anning famous. She later uncovered a better Plesiosaur skeleton in 1829 and a different type of Plesiosaurus fossil in 1830, which finds its place in Natural History Museum of Paris.
- In 1828, she found the fossil of a Pterosaur species Dimorphodon macronyx. It was the first skeleton, of this flying reptile, that was discovered in Britain.
- It was her 1829 discovery, an extinct fish species Squaloraja that is considered to be a major study in the theory of evolution. The skeleton looked like it was an in-between species that was part sting-ray and part shark.
- Louis Agassiz honored Anning by crediting her with two fish species; the Acrodus anningiae and the Belenostomus anningiae in 1841 and 1844 respectively.
- She was credited for the discoveries of Anningia (reptile genus), Anningella (mollusc), Anningasaura (plesiosaur), and Ichthyosaurus anningae. (3)(Those genus and species were named after her inn order to honor her achievements. She is not credited for the discoveries)
- In 1902, the Lyme Regis Museum was built in the site of Mary Anning’s home. It has a plaque dedicated to her and encourages many tourists to walk the beach following her footsteps to hunt for fossils. In 2017, the museum built a new wing dedicated to Anning.
- The Royal Society, in 2010, named Anning amongst 10 British women to have played an influential role in the history of science.
- Her life has inspired several books and movies, some of them being: 1925 book (4 )‘The Heroine of Lyme Regis : The Story of Mary Anning the Celebrated Geologist’, and up-coming movie ‘Ammonite’ casting Saoirse Ronan and Kate Winslet. It is believed that Terry Sullivan’s 1908 song about ‘She sells seashells’ was based on Anning.
- Mary Anning did not marry and lived a life of poverty, risking it daily to make her discoveries. She shared her knowledge with her peers and realized that they have used her to fuel their career and published works without giving her due credit.
- She suffered from breast cancer, and though the members of the Geological Society raised funds for her treatment, she succumbed to the disease on the 9th of March 1847.
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