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Mary Anning – The Women Who Discovered The First Fossil

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Mary Anning is one of the most influential women in Science, recognized by the Royal Society in British History. Anning was an uneducated, working-class woman and, subsequently, an outsider to the scientific community. Mary’s name is taken from the annals of history, and her achievements are unacknowledged and unknown due to her gender and poor social background.

Mary Anning selling seashells near the seashore

Without formal education, her discoveries and ideas about the first-ever Ichthyosaurs and Plesiosaurs to be discovered became the catalyst that changed the way we think about the origins of our planet and how life evolved on it. Her research and discoveries were published by a male geologist who neglected to even refer to her name.

When it was evident, Anning knew more about fossilized remains she discovered and the geology of Lyme Regis than any of the wealthy clients. She was a scientist with a vast capacity to understand the fossilized remains she found in the Blue Lías diffs of Lyme Regis.

The fossil she discovered is still displayed worldwide; they even show the names of wealthy, educated men who bought them from her. The Great Stephan Jay Gould, the most famous science writer of all time, famously called Anning “probably, the most important person and collecting force in the history of Paleontology.”

Her work ignited a fundamental shift in scientific thinking about prehistoric life in the early 19th Century.


The first known find was dug in 1811. It was a 4-foot Ichthyosaur skull. It was dug up by Mary’s brother Joseph when Mary was 12, and a few months later, Anning herself found the rest of the skeleton. They sold to a Lord of a Manor, Henry Hoste Henley of Sandringham House in Sandringham, Norfolk, for £23. And in turn, he sold it to William Bullock, a well-known collector, who displayed it in London.

The Plesiosaurs discovered by Mary Anning

As at the time, most of the people in England believed in the Biblical account of creation, which implied that Earth was only a few thousand years old, the display generated considerable interest amongst the folks. Later, it was sold for £45 and five shillings at auction in May 1819 as a “Crocodile in a Fossil State” to Charles Konig, of the British Museum, who had already suggested the name “Ichthyosaurs” for it.

Ichthyosaurs, found by Mary Anning in 1811

After Mary’s father, Richard’s death, her mother, Molly, ran the fossil business. In 1821, Molly wrote to the British Museum to request payment regarding a specimen. Mary’s brother, Joseph’s time was increasingly being taken up by his apprenticeship to an upholsterer yet, till 1825, he remained active in the fossil business despite that. By that time, Mary Anning has sanctioned the head role in the family. She was once recorded to have said:

The world has used me ill .. these men of learning have sucked my brains, and made a great deal of publishing works, of which I furnished the contents, while I derived none of the advantages

Mary Anning


Toward the end of her life, Anning was awarded a small income from the British Association for the Advancement of Science and the Geological Society of London. This was given in recognition of her contributions to Science.

After she died of breast cancer aged forty-seven in 1847, the Geological Society president spoke of her in his annual address. In 2010, a hundred and sixty-three years after her death, the Royal Society finally recognized Anning as one of the most influential women scientists in British history.

She Sells Sea Shells On The Seashore

Inspired by Mary Anning
Mary Anning by the sea shore selling seashells

The tongue twister, “She Sells Sea Shells On The Seashore,” is inspired by Mary Anning.

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