Mary Anning

Mary Anning the first woman paleontologist

Mary Anning (May 21st, 1799 – March 9, 1847) is a self-taught British paleontologist. Having started collecting fossils to sell them to amateurs, it is now recognized as an essential figure in the history of vertebrate paleontology. Discover the story of Mary Anning the first woman paleontologist.

Mary Anning the first woman paleontologist

Mary Anning's life

Mary Anning was born in a small village in the south of England in 1799. She is known to have found dinosaur fossils at the age of 12. Today all children know about dinosaurs, but at the time of Mary, very few people knew about these prehistoric animals.

The incredible thing is that Mary is not a scientist. She hunted fossils and then sold them to collectors or scientists. With the money she earned, she could support her very poor family. Scientists were traveling around the world to observe its collection.

Mary Anning's discoveries

Among her most important discoveries is the complete skeleton of an ichthyosaur which she finds at 12 years old. In 1821, she made a major discovery; she discovered the skeleton of a plesiosaur, the Plesiosaurus dolichodeirus, still considered today as the type specimen of this species. Mary Anning became the first woman palaeontologist.


In 1828, she discovered an important pterodactyl fossil, a Pterodactylus macronyx, the first found outside of Germany. She resells the fossil to William Buckland who will give it the name of dimorphodon.

Pterodactylus macronyx

These findings are also important to scientists of the time because they prove that species can go extinct. Nobody could admit it because, according to their belief, it was God who had created all living beings during Creation. This dinosaur fossil hunter has thus contributed to the progress of the knowledge of nature.

portrait of Mary Anning the first woman paleontologist

Mary Anning

21st May 1799

21st March 1847