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Mary Anning was an English paleontologist and fossil collector who made important discoveries of Jurassic marine fossil beds in the Blue Lias cliffs located in Dorset, England. Her findings contributed to the knowledge we have now about prehistoric life. In a time when men dominated the scientific community, her contributions made her well known in the geological community in Great Britain, Europe, and the United States.
See the fact file below for more information on the Mary Anning or alternatively, you can download our 22-page Mary Anning worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
EARLY LIFE AND FOSSIL COLLECTING
- Mary Anning was born on May 21, 1799 in the town of Lyme Regis in Dorset, southwest England.
- Mary’s father, Richard Anning, made cabinets for a living, but collected and sold fossils he would find from the seaside to earn extra on top of his main source of income.
- She was one of only two children who survived past infancy and childhood.
- Mary and her family would come to depend on fossil collecting and charity after her father, the breadwinner, died in 1810.
- She, her brother Joseph, and her mother, would sell fossils of invertebrates, mostly to collectors, tourists, and researchers.
- In 1817, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas James Birch took interest in the fossils collected by the Annings. He purchased fossils from them to build his fossil collection.
- Later, he auctioned off his collection and gave the proceeds to the Anning family who were struggling at that time.
EDUCATION AND THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY
- Anning did not receive formal education. She was self-taught most of her life. She learned geology, paleontology, and related scientific fields on her own.
- She learned about paleontology through exploring the cliffs, making discoveries, and classifying the specimens.
- Mary’s expertise in the field secured her place in a scientific community that mostly consisted of upper class men.
- At the time, women were not allowed to attend university, vote, or serve in public office.
- She went on expeditions with leading scientists such as British geologist William Buckland.
- Famous scientists such as English geologist Adam Sedgwick corresponded with Mary and purchased specimens from her.
THE CLIFFS OF LYME REGIS
- Mary Anning made most of her discoveries and collections along the cliffs of Lyme Regis, particularly the Blue Lias cliffs.
- There she had found fossils of both small invertebrates and large vertebrates.
- The cliffs date from the late Triassic to early Jurassic periods, which is approximately 229 million to 176 million years ago.
- During those periods, the region was submerged, thus the cliff formation is rich in fossils.
- In 1810, with her help, her brother found the first known Ichthyosaurus specimen.
- In 1824, Mary discovered what would be the most famous of her findings: the first intact skeleton of a Plesiosaurus.
- The well-preserved and huge Plesiosaurus specimen gained the attention of Georges Cuvier, a French zoologist.
- This discovery was valuable and acquired recognition from paleontologists around the world, making Anning quite a celebrity in the geological community.
- The discovery certainly was not a fluke as Mary went on to recover more Ichthyosaur and plesiosaur skeletons.
- At 27 years old, Mary Anning was able to purchase a place in 1826 where she set up her shop “Anning’s Fossil Depot.”
- Paleontologists and collectors went to Lyme Regis to purchase fossils from the Anning family.
- In 1828, Mary excavated a pterosaur specimen, which was identified as Pterodactylus macronyx, and that was the first of its kind found outside Germany.
- In 1829 she uncovered a Squaloraja skeleton. A Squaloraja is a fish that belongs to a group between sharks and ray fish.
FIRST DEEP TIME PRINT
- By 1830, Britain was under a lot of economic difficulty, which led to a decrease in demand for fossils. This undeniably affected the income of the Annings.
- One of her colleagues and friends, geologist Henry De la Beche, helped her by using her findings to produce lithographic prints of what would portray prehistoric Dorset. They sold the prints and the proceeds went to the Anning family.
- The print was the first to portray a scene depicting the concept of geologic time, which is now known as “deep time.”
- In December 1830, she made a major and expensive skeleton discovery, which was a new type of plesiosaur.
CREDIT FOR HER WORK
- Mary Anning recovered many skeletons and specimens, some of which have been described in reputable journals but not properly credited to her, largely because of how women were treated at the time. Women were outsiders to the scholarly community.
- Nonetheless, Anning received due credit in the work of leading geologists and paleontologists.
- Anning’s contributions to paleontology and science granted her annuities from the British Association for the Advancement of Science and the Geological Society of London.
DEATH AND LEGACY
- Mary Anning died of breast cancer in 1847.
- Even though women were not admitted to the prestigious Geological Society of London, the president of the organization delivered a eulogy for Anning.
- She was named one of ten most influential women scientists in British history by the Royal Society in 2010.
Mary Anning Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the Mary Anning across 22 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Mary Anning worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about Mary Anning who was an English paleontologist and fossil collector who made important discoveries of Jurassic marine fossil beds in the Blue Lias cliffs located in Dorset, England. Her findings contributed to the knowledge we have now about prehistoric life. In a time when men dominated the scientific community, her contributions made her well known in the geological community in Great Britain, Europe, and the United States.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Mary Anning Facts
- Early Life of Mary Anning
- Finding Fossils
- Paleontology Terms
- Discovery Timeline
- Scientific Community
- Concept Map
- Tongue Twisters
- Mary Had A Little Fossil
- Exploring Dorset
- My Own Discovery
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Use With Any Curriculum
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