Remarkable Creatures

Mary Anning

Sketch of Mary Anning reproduced with permission of Roderick Gordon & Diana Harman

A few years ago I went with my son to a small dinosaur museum in Dorchester, on the south coast of England. Among the usual displays, there was a wall devoted to Mary Anning, who lived in the early 19th century in the nearby town of Lyme Regis, where fossils are abundant. The display showed a sketch of Mary on the beach, holding a hammer and wearing a top hat to protect her from falling rocks. At age 12 she discovered the first complete specimen of an ichthyosaur, a marine reptile about 200 million years old (illustration below).

I was interested that, though female and working class, Mary managed to work with the middle class male scientists of the day. She was prickly and independent and eccentric. Plus, she was struck by lightning as a baby and survived. Discovering her felt like my own jolt of lightning, and I knew I had to write about her.