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Mary Anning

Geology People

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.

-Terry Sullivan, 1908

That rhyme could be inspired by the life of Mary Anning (1799-1847). She was one of the most important paleontologists ever, and she sold seashells down by the seashore.

Mary Anning (1799–1847) was an English fossil collector, dealer, and self-taught paleontologist who made significant contributions to the understanding of prehistoric life and paleontological environments during the early 19th century. Her discoveries played a crucial role in expanding knowledge of ancient species and the history of life on Earth.

Anning’s most famous discoveries were made along the Jurassic Coast in Lyme Regis, England. She unearthed numerous fossils, including the first complete Ichthyosaurus skeleton and the first complete Plesiosaurus skeleton. These discoveries provided valuable insights into the anatomy and biology of ancient marine reptiles and the paleontological environments in which they lived.

Despite her lack of formal education, Anning’s expertise and contributions earned her recognition and respect among prominent scientists of the era, including geologists Henry De la Beche and Richard Owen. Her discoveries and knowledge influenced the emerging field of paleontology and contributed to the public’s fascination with prehistoric life.

Furthermore, Anning’s role as a pioneering female scientist in a male-dominated field has made her a symbol of women’s contributions to science. Her dedication to fossil hunting and her perseverance in the face of challenges continue to inspire scientists and advocates for gender equality. Mary Anning’s legacy is marked by her exceptional contributions to paleontology and the study of prehistoric life. Her discoveries have enriched our understanding of the paleontological environments of the past and the diverse array of creatures that inhabited them. Her story also serves as a reminder of the importance of inclusivity and recognition of contributions from all members of the scientific community.