Mary Anning – Fossil Hunter. Mary Anning was born on May 21, 1799; she was an English fossil collector,

Mary Anning – Fossil Hunter. Mary Anning was born on May 21, 1799; she was an English fossil collector, dealer, and palaeontologist who became known around the world for the discoveries she made in Jurassic marine fossil beds in the cliffs along the English Channel at Lyme Regis in the county of Dorset in southwest England. Anning’s findings contributed to changes in scientific thinking about prehistoric life and the history of the Earth.

She searched for fossils in the area’s Blue Lias and Charmouth Mudstone cliffs, particularly during the winter months when landslides exposed new fossils that had to be collected quickly before they were lost to the sea. Her discoveries included the first correctly identified ichthyosaur skeleton when she was twelve years old; the first two nearly complete plesiosaur skeletons; the first pterosaur skeleton located outside Germany; and fish fossils.

Her observations played a key role in the discovery that coprolites, known as bezoar stones at the time, were fossilised faeces, and she also discovered that belemnite fossils contained fossilised ink sacs like those of modern cephalopods.

Anning struggled financially for much of her life. As a woman, she was not eligible to join the Geological Society of London, and she did not always receive full credit for her scientific contributions. However, her friend, geologist Henry De la Beche, who painted Duria Antiquior, the first widely circulated pictorial representation of a scene from prehistoric life derived from fossil reconstructions, based it largely on fossils Anning had found and sold prints of it for her benefit.

She became well known in geological circles in Britain, Europe, and America and was consulted on issues of anatomy as well as fossil collecting. The only scientific writing of hers published in her lifetime appeared in the Magazine of Natural History in 1839, an extract from a letter that Anning had written to the magazine’s editor questioning one of its claims.

After her death in 1847, Anning’s unusual life story attracted increasing interest. And an article about her life was published in February 1865 in Charles Dickens’ literary magazine All the Year Round. Portrait of Mary Anning with her dog, Tray, painted before 1842; the hill Golden Cap can be seen in the background