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May 21

Portrait of Mary Anning by Mr. Grey Image Credit: Portrait of Mary Anning by Mr. Grey

Today in Science

Fossil Collector Mary Anning

Pioneering fossil collector Mary Anning was born on this day in 1799.

Anning lived during a time when geology as a science was just developing. She lived in Lyme Regis, England, an area where fossils lay exposed in cliff faces eroded by the sea. Anning was born to a family with little money or social standing. Despite the social norms of her time, which favored upper-class men as scholars, Anning became an acknowledged leader in fossil collection and identification. Her work helped provide a basis for the key theories upon which the science of geology is based. Called the “Princess of Paleontology” by a contemporary, she sold her fossil finds to tourists and to museums and collectors all over England.

Among her discoveries were a small Ichthyosaurus discovered in 1821 and the first Plesiosaurus, unearthed in 1823. Although Anning’s work was well-respected during her life, her gender and social standing prevented her from becoming a Fellow of the Geological Society, and many of her finds were not credited to her for the historical record.

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