Happy Birthday to Mary Anning!

Born on May 21, 1799, in Lyme Regis, on the coast of Dorset, England, famed fossil-hunter Mary Anning grew up collecting specimens.
At age 13, she unearthed a skeleton of a giant marine reptile. While in her late 20s, she discovered Dimorphodon, the first pterosaur discovered outside continental Europe. At the time, headlines celebrated Mary and her “flying dragon.”

Learn more about her amazing life and contributions.


22. Mary Anning

If you went down to the blue lias cliffs at Lyme Regis in Dorset on a freezing winter day in the 1820s or 1830s, you might have seen a thoroughly bundled-up figure scratching in the shale and examining the stones. A scientific gentleman of the Royal Society, making important discoveries about fossils that would later lead to, among other things, the development of the theory of evolution

Well, almost. 

You’d actually be looking at Mary Anning, a working-class woman from a religiously-dissenting family who wouldn’t have been allowed to scrub the front steps of the Royal Society — and a damn fine scientist nonetheless. 

Anning’s family were Congregationalists, members of an unpopular religious minority. They lived in the village of Lyme, so close to the sea that their house flooded in bad weather, and they were pretty damn poor. Her father, Richard Anning, was a carpenter who supplemented his income by picking up and mining interesting stones — then called ‘curios’, later to be known as ‘fossils’ — from the beach and selling them to tourists (who initially bought them because they were weird or pretty, not for any scientific interest). 

Anning and her brother Joseph (the only two of the family’s ten children to live to adulthood) helped their father at this work. After he died in 1810, 11-year-old Mary and 14-year-old Joseph (and their mother, Molly) all continued to work at fossil-collecting in order to keep their family afloat. In 1811, when Anning was twelve years old, they discovered what would later be identified as the first complete icthyosaur skeleton — Joseph dug up the skull, and a few months later, Mary found the rest of the skeleton. They sold the find to Henry Henley, a local aristocrat, who sold it on to collector William Bullock who displayed it in London — causing people to begin to ask serious questions about the Biblical account of Creation.

Anning continued to work as a fossil-hunter into adulthood, eventually opening her own shop in Lyme in 1826, ‘Anning’s Fossil Depot’. It wasn’t particularly safe or easy work, either - in 1833, Anning was caught in a landslide that nearly killed her (and did, unfortunately, kill her dog Tray, pictured in a sketch above).

Despite the fact that she had had limited access to schooling (she learned basic reading and writing at Congregationalist Sunday School), Anning was deadly serious about educating herself as a scientist. She read as many scientific journals and publications as she could get hold of. She conducted dissections of modern animals in order to better understand the fossil ones she was researching, and made careful copies of diagrams and illustrations that she found in books. Among many other discoveries, she also uncovered the first plesiosaur and the first British example of a pterosaur: her notes were also key to the discovery that coprolite stones were in fact fossilized animal dung (a discovery for which scientist William Buckland ended up getting most of the credit).

As interest in the new sciences of geology and palaeontology grew, Anning was not permitted to join the Royal Society, nor the Royal Geological Society. This effectively meant that she could not be recognised as the maker of any scientific discoveries, as she had no means to publish her work. Many of the wealthy fossil collectors who bought items from her published Society papers on their purchases: some of them appear to have ripped off her descriptions of the fossils wholesale and passed them off as their own. A friend of Anning’s, Anna Pinney, wrote: 

She says the world has used her ill … these men of learning have sucked her brains, and made a great deal of publishing works, of which she furnished the contents, while she derived none of the advantages.

And damn right, too! Although those ‘in the know’ do seem to have recognised the value of Anning’s work to some extent, collecting a subscription to pay her medical bills and making her a member of the new Dorset County Museum, she still  doesn’t appear to have got anything near the scientific credit she deserved. In 1847, she died of breast cancer — and the President of the Geological Society spoke at her funeral (why yes, that was the same society that wouldn’t let her join while she was alive). The eulogy was published in the Society’s quarterly transactions, an honour that no other woman would receive until the Society began accepting female members in 1904. 

Anning has received much greater recognition after her death, and is a relatively famous figure nowadays — there are a number of fictional novels and kids’ books about her, and her story is even reputed to be the basis for the tongue twister ‘She sells seashells…’. The third image above is a display that now hangs in the Natural History Museum in London showing information about her life beside a plesiosaur skeleton. However, I think it’s important to remember not only her discoveries, but the sheer effort of will that it must have required for a person of her gender and class and religious background to have been taken even as seriously as she was by the scientific community during her lifetime. Surviving and thriving as an academic from a working-class background isn’t all that easy in 2012… and yet nearly 200 years earlier, Anning was doing it despite some pretty terrifying odds. It’s also, of course, important to remember how little credit she got for it, and how her findings were misappropriated by her so-called superiors — which is, of course, what happens when some people are forcibly barred from taking part in academic discourse.

Somehow, a museum plaque and a tongue-twister still don’t seem like enough to make up for that.


Bio at the Natural History Museum: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/science-of-natural-history/biographies/mary-anning/index.html

Bio at Lyme Regis Museum: http://www.lymeregismuseum.co.uk/in-the-museum/mary-anning

Essay by William Sargeant, ‘The Three Mary Annings’: http://www.whaton.uwaterloo.ca/waton/s008.html

BBC primary-school kids’ page with images and a game: http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/primaryhistory/famouspeople/mary_anning/

Bio from San Diego ‘Women in Science’ series: http://www.sdsc.edu/ScienceWomen/anning.html

Wikipedia biography: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Anning

Images from the ‘Literary Lyme’ walking tour: http://www.literarylyme.co.uk/maryanninggallery.html

Google doodles fossil hunter Mary Anning’s 215th birth anniversary

New Delhi: Paying a tribute to British fossil collector Mary Anning on her 215th birth anniversary, Google has posted a doodle that features Anning searching for fossils, with the remains of creatures forming the letters of the word Google.

Mary Anning was a fossil-collecting woman in the 19th century whose discoveries challenged the predominant thinking of her era. She was working class and didn’t start out as a scientist but she was collecting fossils to sell them to make a living and fell into this scientific discovery.

Anning was credited with the discovery of several dinosaur specimens that helped in the early development of palaeontology. It is said that Anning spent a year extracting the dinosaur fossil from 205 million-year-old Blue Lias cliffs on the beach.

Tracy Chevalier’s wrote a novel “Remarkable Creatures” telling the story of Mary Anning. The idea to write this novel came to Chevalier in a dinosaur museum in Dorset, England.

Anning died of breast cancer in 1847. She was 47.


learn more about here here

Way to go, Google! Happy Birthday, Mary Anning!!!

On May 21st, 1799, Mary Anning was born in England. She was a fossil collector, palaeontologist, and scientist who gave us some of the best discoveries in the mid 19th century. For a woman back in the 1800’s, this was groundbreaking for women and science in general.

We still struggle today to get more women involved and recognised for their work in science, so just think about how it was way back when (plus social status, etc)! Just last week I was speaking with an Anthropologist and Archaeologist (both women) on the growing number of women in science, and how great it is to see more females coming into these fields of study.

Mary Anning – for me – has been a huge inspiration ever since I was a child. She was bold, determined, and very daring with her fossil hunts. Anyone can hunt for fossils; you do not have to have a degree to do so. Now, should you sign up with a museum or society to do it? Yes, I highly suggest it, because it’s always good to make sure you are looking for the right signs, you are in safe territory, and that everything is done by the books. Each fossil is incredibly important to science!

Wikipedia has a nice long page about Mary Anning, and there’s documentaries and other resources out there to read.

I just love her, and I could go on and on about all the amazing things she accomplished, so maybe sometime in the future I will have a big post written up.

I’m currently writing a few things for you guys, so keep a lookout for those in the near future.

Badass Scientist of the Week: Mary Anning

Mary Anning (1799-1847) was a British fossil collector and paleontologist most well-known for a number of finds that she made in the cliffs surrounding her seaside home in Dorset, England. Fundamental changes in scientific thinking, especially regarding prehistoric life and the history of the Earth, were due in large part to her work. Dorset, where she also lived as a child, was quickly becoming a popular tourist destination by the early 1800s. The wealthy visitors were more than eager to gobble up the variety of fossils that the Anning family found and sold as ‘curios.’ In 1811, Anning made her first important discovery at the age of 12. It was the four foot skull of an ichthyosaur, a marine reptile that lived during the time of dinosaurs. She soon unearthed the rest of the fossil. The discovery shook up majority England’s long-held belief in Biblical Creation and forced people to question the assumption that the Earth was only a few thousand years old. Anning also found the first complete Plesiosaurus fossil, another large marine reptile, and the first British pterosaur fossil, a flying reptile. Fossil hunting was most successful during the winter when landslides on the cliffs would reveal what lay underneath. It was through one of these winter slides that her dog Tray, her faithful fossil hunting companion, was crushed to his death at her feet. Because Anning was a working woman, she did not have much say in the scientific community of the time. In fact, she only ever published in one scientific journal. However, her sketches and writings on ancient life are some of the most-detailed and highly-revered from the time period. Mary Anning has since become a figure of increased interest, and finally received a little of the recognition that she deserves when—only one hundred and sixty-three years after her death—she was ranked among the ten most influential women in the history of science.

Guest article written by Jake Heller

Meet Mary Anning - The Greatest Fossil Hunter Ever Known


This is Mary Anning the worlds greatest fossil hunter and the founding mother of scientific geology. She completely changed our understanding of the origins of species and the age of the earth.  Her discoveries are the first to scientifically established the existence of prehistoric species - before her discoveries there was no scientific establishment for dinosaurs and people didn’t even know that animals could become extinct.

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Historical Women We Want In Doctor Who: Mary Anning


Mary Anning (1799-1847): British Paleontologist

The Doctor takes Clara to Lyme Regis for a nice, calming vacation in the 19th Century. But alien parasites have infected the bones in Mary Anning’s shop and reanimated her fossils.Now ancient monsters are terrorizing Dorset. With their combined knowledge and expertise, the Doctor and Mary have to fight against the alien parasites and capture the fleeing fossils before they consume everything in their path.


Ten Historic Female Scientists You Should Know

Emilie du Chatelet (1706 – 1749)

Gabrielle-Emilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, the daughter of the French court’s chief of protocol, married the marquis du Chatelet in 1725. She lived the life of a courtier and bore three children. But at age 27, she began studying mathematics seriously and then branched into physics. This interest intensified as she began an affair with the philosopher Voltaire, who also had a love of science. Their scientific collaborations—they outfitted a laboratory at du Chatelet’s home, Chateau de Cirey, and, in a bit of a competition, each entered an essay into a contest on the nature of fire (neither won)—outlasted their romance. Du Chatelet’s most lasting contribution to science was her French translation of Isaac Newton’s Principia, which is still in use today. At age 43, she fell in love with a young military officer and became pregnant; she died following complications during the birth of their child.

Caroline Herschel (1750 – 1848)

Herschel was little more than the household drudge for her parents in Hanover, Germany (she would later describe herself as the “Cinderella of the family”), when her older brother, William, brought her to England in 1772 to run his household in Bath. After she mastered the art of singing—to accompany William, who was the organist for the Octagon Chapel—her brother switched careers and went into astronomy. Caroline followed. In addition to assisting her brother in his observations and in the building of telescopes, Caroline became a brilliant astronomer in her own right, discovering new nebulae and star clusters. She was the first woman to discover a comet (she discovered eight in total) and the first to have her work published by the Royal Society. She was also the first British woman to get paid for her scientific work, when William, who had been named the king’s personal astronomer after his discovery of Uranus in 1781, persuaded his patron to reward his assistant with an annual salary. After William’s death in 1822, Caroline retired to Hanover. There she continued her astronomical work, compiling a catalogue of nebulae—the Herschels’ work had increased the number of known star clusters from 100 to 2,500. She died in 1848 at age 97 after receiving many honors in her field, including a gold medal from the Royal Astronomical Society.

Mary Anning (1799 – 1847)

In 1811, Mary Anning’s brother spotted what he thought was a crocodile skeleton in a seaside cliff near the family’s Lyme Regis, England, home. He charged his 11-year-old sister with its recovery, and she eventually dug out a skull and 60 vertebrae, selling them to a private collector for £23. This find was no croc, though, and was eventually named Ichthyosaurus, the “fish-lizard.” Thus began Anning’s long career as a fossil hunter. In addition to ichthyosaurs, she found long-necked plesiosaurs, a pterodactyl and hundreds, possibly thousands, of other fossils that helped scientists to draw a picture of the marine world 200 million to 140 million years ago during the Jurassic. She had little formal education and so taught herself anatomy, geology, paleontology and scientific illustration. Scientists of the time traveled from as far away as New York City to Lyme Regis to consult and hunt for fossils with Anning.

Mary Somerville (1780 – 1872)

Intrigued by the x’s and y’s in the answer to a math question in a ladies’ fashion magazine, 14-year-old Mary Fairfax of Scotland delved into the study of algebra and mathematics, defying her father’s injunction against such pursuits. Her studies were sidetracked by a marriage, in 1804, to a Russian Navy captain, but after his death she returned to Edinburgh and became involved in intellectual circles, associating with people such as the writer Sir Walter Scott and the scientist John Playfair, and resumed her studies in math and science. Her next husband, William Somerville, whom she wed in 1812, supported these efforts, and after they moved to London, Mary became host to her own intellectual circle, which included the astronomer John Herschel and the inventor Charles Babbage. She began experimenting on magnetism and produced a series of writings on astronomy, chemistry, physics and mathematics. She translated astronomer Pierre-Simon Laplace’s The Mechanism of the Heavens into English, and although she was unsatisfied with the result, it was used as a textbook for much of the next century. Somerville was one of the first two women, along with Caroline Herschel, to be named honorary members of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Maria Mitchell (1818 – 1889)

Young Maria Mitchell learned to observe the stars from her father, who used stellar observations to check the accuracy of chronometers for Nantucket, Massachusetts, whalers and taught his children to use a sextant and reflecting telescope. When Mitchell was 12, she helped her father record the time of an eclipse. And at 17, she had already begun her own school for girls, teaching them science and math. But Mitchell rocketed to the forefront of American astronomy in 1847 when she spotted a blurry streak—a comet—through her telescope. She was honored around the world, earning a medal from the king of Denmark, and became the first woman to be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1857 Mitchell traveled to Europe, where she visited observatories and met with intellectuals, including Mary Somerville. Mitchell would write: “I could not help but admire [her] as a woman. The ascent of the steep and rugged path of science has not unfitted her for the drawing room circle; the hours of devotion to close study have not been incompatible with the duties of wife and mother.” Mitchell became the first female astronomy professor in the United States, when she was hired by Vassar College in 1865. There she continued her observations, particularly those of the Sun, traveling up to 2,000 miles to witness an eclipse.

Lise Meitner (1878 – 1968)

When Lise Meitner finished school at age 14, she was barred from higher education, as were all girls in Austria. But, inspired by the discoveries of William Röntgen and Henri Becquerel, she was determined to study radioactivity. When she turned 21, women were finally allowed into Austrian universities. Two years of tutoring preceded her enrollment at the University of Vienna; there she excelled in math and physics and earned her doctorate in 1906. She wrote to Marie Curie, but there was no room for her in the Paris lab and so Meitner made her way to Berlin. There she collaborated with Otto Hahn on the study of radioactive elements, but as an Austrian Jewish woman (all three qualities were strikes against her), she was excluded from the main labs and lectures and allowed to work only in the basement. In 1912, the pair moved to a new university and Meitner had better lab facilities. Though their partnership was split up physically when she was forced to flee Nazi Germany in 1938, they continued to collaborate. Meitner continued her work in Sweden and after Hahn discovered that uranium atoms were split when bombarded with neutrons, she calculated the energy released in the reaction and named the phenomenon “nuclear fission.” The discovery—which eventually led to the atomic bomb (“You must not blame scientists for the use to which war technicians have put our discoveries,” Meitner would say in 1945)—won Hahn the Nobel Prize in 1944. Meitner, overlooked by the Nobel committee, refused to return to Germany after the war and continued her atomic research in Stockholm into her 80s.

Irène Curie-Joliot (1897 – 1956)

The elder daughter of Pierre and Marie Curie, Irène followed her parents’ footsteps into the lab. The thesis for her 1925 doctor of science was on the alpha rays of polonium, one of the two elements her mother discovered. The next year, she married Frédéric Joliot, one of her mother’s assistants at the Radium Institute in Paris. Irène and Frédéric continued their collaboration inside the laboratory, pursuing research on the structure of the atom. In 1934, they discovered artificial radioactivity by bombarding aluminum, boron and magnesium with alpha particles to produce isotopes of nitrogen, phosphorus, silicon and aluminum. They received the Nobel Prize in chemistry the next year, making Marie and Irène the first parent-child couple to have independently won Nobels. All those years working with radioactivity took a toll, however, and Irène died of leukemia in 1956.

Barbara McClintock (1902 – 1992)

While studying botany at Cornell University in the 1920s, Barbara McClintock got her first taste of genetics and was hooked. As she earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees and moved into postdoctoral work, she pioneered the study of genetics of maize (corn) cells. She pursued her research at universities in California, Missouri and Germany before finding a permanent home at Cold Spring Harbor in New York. It was there that, after observing the patterns of coloration of maize kernels over generations of plants, she determined that genes could move within and between chromosomes. The finding didn’t fit in with conventional thinking on genetics, however, and was largely ignored; McClintock began studying the origins of maize in South America. But after improved molecular techniques that became available in the 1970s and early 1980s confirmed her theory and these “jumping genes” were found in microorganisms, insects and even humans, McClintock was awarded a Lasker Prize in 1981 and Nobel Prize in 1983.

Dorothy Hodgkin (1910 – 1994)

Dorothy Crowfoot (Hodgkin, after her 1937 marriage) was born in Cairo, Egypt, to a pair of British archaeologists. She was sent home to England for school, where she was one of only two girls who were allowed to study chemistry with the boys. At 18, she enrolled in one of Oxford’s women’s colleges and studied chemistry and then moved to Cambridge to study X-ray crystallography, a type of imaging that uses X-rays to determine a molecule’s three-dimensional structure. She returned to Oxford in 1934, where she would spend most of her working life, teaching chemistry and using X-ray crystallography to study interesting biological molecules. She spent years perfecting the technique, for which she was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1964, and determined the structures of penicillin, vitamin B12 and insulin. In 2010, 16 years after her death, the British Royal Mail celebrated the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society by issuing stamps with the likenesses of 10 of the society’s most illustrious members, including Isaac Newton and Benjamin Franklin; Hodgkin was the only woman in the group.

Rosalind Franklin (1920 – 1958)

James Watson and Francis Crick get credit for determining the structure of DNA, but their discovery relied on the work of Rosalind Franklin. As a teenager in the 1930s, Franklin attended one of the few girls’ schools in London that taught physics and chemistry, but when she told her father that she wanted to be a scientist, he rejected the idea. He eventually relented and she enrolled at Cambridge University, receiving a doctorate in physical chemistry. She learned techniques for X-ray crystallography while in Paris, returning to England in 1951 to work in the laboratory of John Randall at King’s College, London. There she made X-ray images of DNA. She had nearly figured out the molecule’s structure when Maurice Wilkins, another researcher in Randall’s lab who was also studying DNA, showed one of Franklin’s X-ray images to James Watson. Watson quickly figured out the structure was a double helix and, with Francis Crick, published the finding in the journal Nature. Watson, Crick and Wilkins won a Nobel Prize in 1962 for their discovery. Franklin, however, had died of ovarian cancer in 1958.

Does this photograph show Mary Anning?

Searching for the missing women of geology, Suzanne Pilaar Birch asks if this could be the only existing photograph of renowned palaeontologist and geologist Mary Anning.

  • by Suzanne Pilaar Birch

“Born in 1799, Mary Anning was the discoverer of the famous ichthyosaur and plesiosaur fossils on the Jurassic coast of Dorset. Following her death in 1847, Charles Dickens wrote of her contribution to geology: “It was not a science when she began to discover, and so [she] helped to make it one.” The Natural History Museum in London has called her the “greatest fossil hunter ever known”.

Simply titled The Geologists, the image above is known as a calotype or salt print. It is one of the earliest examples of photography, captured by the pioneer who developed the method, William Henry Fox Talbot, on the Dorset coast in 1843. Could it show Anning? The dress of the woman looks strikingly similar to that in Anning’s portrait.

We know that Henry de la Beche, president of the British Geological Survey and a close friend of Anning, had corresponded with Talbot in February of that year, requesting him to take geological photographs. Talbot was initially reticent, but in March 1843 agreed to meet with de la Beche. We know from letters and other sources they became friends. Could the woman be Anning and the man de la Beche?

The date, location, clothing, and correspondence make tantalising evidence. However, though Anning is relatively well-known in the history of British paleontology and geology, she was by no means the only woman working in the field. In fact, her female contemporaries included her friend and mentor, Elizabeth PhilpotEtheldred Benett, who wrote a monograph on Wiltshire geology; Mary Fairfax Somerville, a mathematician and physical geographer; Elizabeth Carne, who wrote a number of papers and was inducted into the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall in 1865; and Barbara, the Marchioness of Hastings, who specialised in fossil turtles and crocodiles.

Two women whose contributions are often muddied by their working relationships with their geologist husbands include Charlotte Murchison, another fossil hunter and talented geological sketch artist who travelled with Charles Lyell and communicated with Anning, and Mary Buckland, also an accomplished artist, who assisted her husband in writing and illustrated many fossils. Lady Eliza Gordon-Cumming, who collected and wrote about fossil fish in her native northern Scotland, corresponded with the Murchisons and Bucklands about her finds” (read more).

(Source: The Guardian)

Historical Women of Doctor Who: Lets Brainstorm!

Google had a pretty awesome Doodle a few days ago dedicated to British paleontologist  Mary Anning:


I first learned about Mary Anning during a trip to the Natural History Museum, where they have an actor who will tell you about her life and the fossils she discovered.

But after I saw the Google Doodle, I actually took some time to sit down and read about Mary Anning’s life, which is pretty incredible. And then, because I’m me, I immediately thought, “It would be SO COOL if there was a Doctor Who episode dedicated to her!” And then I spent the next thirty minutes mentally sketching out a plot for her episode.

As you all know, I’ve been less than pleased with the historical women episodes in New Who, which is really quite sad. Historical episodes can be fun, insightful, educational, and could help women of all ages learn about the history of women who, like Mary Anning, have been overlooked or deliberately left out of the history books.

So for the next few days, let’s all brainstorm some episodes we’d like to see with amazing women throughout history. Submit the name of any historical woman you’d like to see in Doctor Who and a summary of her episode. Maybe the Doctor and his companies fight alongside notorious pirate Ching Shih. Or maybe the Doctor runs into Emmeline Pankhurst and tries to get his laser spanner back. It’s up to you! I’ll start off with my Mary Anning idea.

I can’t wait to read all of your submissions!

Mary Anning, Fossil Hunter

She sells seashells on the seashore
The shells she sells are seashells, I’m sure
So if she sells seashells on the seashore
Then I’m sure she sells seashore shells. - about Mary Anning.

Mary Anning was a 19th century fossil collector, dealer, and paleontologist who became famous for a number of important finds she made in the Jurassic marine fossil beds at Lyme Regis, Dorset, where she lived. Fossil collecting was in vogue in the early 19th century, at first as a pastime, but gradually transforming into a science as the importance of fossils to geology and biology was understood. Anning’s work contributed to fundamental changes that occurred during her lifetime in scientific thinking about prehistoric life and the history of the Earth.

Anning searched for fossils particularly during the winter when landslides exposed new fossils that had to be collected quickly before they were lost to the sea. It was dangerous work, and she nearly lost her life in 1833 during a landslide that killed her dog.

Her discoveries included the first ichthyosaur skeleton to be correctly identified, which she found when she was just twelve; the first plesiosaur skeletons ever found; the first pterosaur skeleton located outside Germany; and important fish fossils. Her observations played a key role in the discovery that coprolites were fossilised faeces.

Anning’s gender and social class prevented her from fully participating in the scientific community of the period, dominated as it was by wealthy gentlemen. However, she became well known in geological circles the world over, and was consulted on all issues of anatomy and fossil collecting. Nonetheless, 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. Indeed, she wrote in a letter: “The world has used me so unkindly, I fear it has made me suspicious of everyone.”