• Sara Thompson

Mary Anning a Fabulous Fossil Hunter


Portrait of Mary Anning with her dog, Tray, and the Golden Cap outcrop in the background, Natural History Museum, London

By Sara Thompson

Special to the Enterprise


The Lyme Regis of Southwest England have a large abundance of marine fossils from the Jurassic period. This is the area in which Mary Anning would collect fossils and become of the most important fossil hunters ever known.


Born in 1799, Mary Anning was one of ten children, two of which were the only ones to reach adulthood. At a young age, Mary’s father would take her and her brother fossil hunting, selling their finds to help supplement the family’s income. After her father passed away 1810, Mary and her family continued to hunt for fossils and sold them to tourists and scientists who wanted the fossil specimens in their own research. When her brother took a trades job as an upholsterer, Mary continued to fossil hunt and make detailed notes in journals of her findings.


Mary is credited with finding the first Ichthyosaur skeleton and matching it to a skull her brother had found a few months prior. Mary became even more well known to the scientific community with her discovery and description of the world’s first plesiosaur skeleton. She additionally discovered the first pterosaur skeletons outside Germany at the time. Mary also developed an area of paleontology still studies extensively today, the study of coprolites, or fossilized animal droppings.


Despite all of her contributions and discoveries to the scientific community, she often was not credited for much of her finds due to her gender and her socio-economic status. Geologists, amateur collectors, and members of Geologic Societies would purchase her specimens, look thought her field notebooks, ask several questions, and then publish under their own name in publications. This frustrated Mary and made her bitter to those who used her. Mary passed away in 1847 at the age of 47. Her collection of fossil specimens is still on display at the Natural History Museum in London. She made huge discoveries while paleontology was still in its infancy and will be remembered for generations for her contributions to the field.


Campers in this week’s Fossil Finders Summer Science Camp learned about different types of fossils and how they form. They made their own fossils from plaster, excavated shells and figures from blocks, and assembled wooden dinosaur skeletons. Explorit has limited spaces available for camps designed for grades K-3 and 4-6. Summer Science Camp runs from 8:00-11:15am Monday-Friday and are filled with fun, hand-on science activities. Fee for summer camp is $175 for Members/$200 for Non-Members. Additional information and registration can be found at https://www.explorit.org/camps.



Explorit's coming events:

• We will remain closed to the public through the summer. We are planning on opening a new exhibit with cleaning and safety protocols in place for fall of 2021.

• Like many small businesses the closures have had a significant impact on our income and sustainability. Now is a great time to donate and help Explorit continue to educate and inspire the scientists of tomorrow: https://www.explorit.org/donate.

• Continue to support Explorit during this uncertain time by becoming a member. An Exploit Membership not only support us but grants the recipient with free visits to Explorit’s regular public hours, discounts on events, summer and after-school camps, and workshops, and gives you ASTC benefits to visit other museums throughout the world. For more information visit https://www.explorit.org/membership or call Explorit at 530-756-0191.