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Mary Anning (1) : A twelve-year-old girl from Lyme Regis made a historic discovery while selling seashells to tourists.
Mary Anning
Part one

With acknowledgements to ‘All the Year Round’ (November 1865), edited by Charles Dickens.

Around the time that the fictional Anne Elliot paid a visit to Lyme Regis in Jane Austen’s novel ‘Persuasion’, in real life a young girl named Mary Anning was chipping away at the nearby cliffs, and had already entered the history books.

IN 1811, twelve-year-old Mary Anning pieced together a fossilised skeleton from the limestone cliffs of Lyme Regis in Dorset. It was very different from the usual ammonite and belemnite shells that she and her brother sold to tourists, and it netted them £23, a welcome windfall following the death of their father Richard the previous year.

The specimen was subsequently called Ichthyosaurus, the first of its kind to be discovered. In 1823, Mary also unearthed the world’s first complete Plesiosaurus, and in 1828 she found Britain’s first Pterosaurus – or ‘flying dragon’, as the British Museum whimsically labelled it on display.

Academic institutions cold-shouldered Mary, though not the specimens she sold to them, bracketing her with the quarrymen who often supplied fossils to professional scientists. But the self-taught Mary’s finds came with anatomical drawings and ready-made classifications, really good ones; even eminent French anatomist George Cuvier had to eat his words after criticising her reconstruction of Plesiosaurus.

With acknowledgements to ‘All the Year Round’ (November 1865), edited by Charles Dickens.

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Picture: Via Wikimedia Commons. Licence: Public domain. View original
On 26th December, 1823, Mary Anning sent a letter with this hand-drawn sketch of a fossil skeleton she had pieced together, confirming the world’s first discovery of Plesiosaurus. It required an instinctive as well as an encyclopaedic knowledge of anatomy to identify, retrieve and arrange fossil remains in this way.
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Mary Anning Part Two

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