• Who was Mary Anning?

    Mary Anning found the fossils of prehistoric animals. Today many children like finding out about dinosaurs. When Mary Anning was a child, no one knew about these long-dead animals. Mary's fossil-hunting helped change the way people thought about the world.

    When did she live?
    Mary was born in 1799. She grew up while Britain was at war with France. She was 16 in the year of the Battle of Waterloo (1815). She was alive when Victoria became Queen, in 1837. Mary Anning died in 1847.

    Why is she famous?
    Mary Anning was not trained as a scientist, but her finds changed science. She came from a poor family. She made only one trip away from home in her whole life. Famous scientists came to see her. They wanted to see the fossils she found.

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  • Growing up by the sea

    Where did Mary live?
    Mary was born in England on 21 May 1799. She lived in the seaside town of Lyme Regis, in Dorset.

    The town had lots of visitors. They came to walk by the sea, and explore the beach and cliffs. Rich people were just starting to take a 'seaside holiday'.

    Mary's family
    Mary's father was Richard Anning. He was a carpenter. He made furniture. Her mother's name was Mary Moore. The family was poor.

    Mr and Mrs Anning had nine children. Only Mary and her brother Joseph grew up. The other children died. One sister died in a fire at home before Mary was born. Baby Mary was given the same name.

    A lucky escape
    As a baby, Mary had a lucky escape. In a thunderstorm, lightning struck at a fair. A woman holding Mary and two other people were killed. But Mary was unhurt.

    Finds on the seashore
    Mary's father took his children along the beach. They picked up shells and stones to sell to visitors. They had a stall on the seafront.

    In 1810, Mary's father died after falling from a cliff. The family had very little money. Mary spent most days looking for shells to sell.

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  • Fossil finds

    What are fossils?
    Fossils are the hard remains of animals that died long ago. Fossils are clues about prehistoric life.

    200 million years ago, Dorset was beneath the sea. The sea was alive with strange animals. Mary Anning found their fossils.

    Strange sea animals
    In the prehistoric seas lived animals with curly shells, like snails. There were animals with 'arms', like squid. Animals with legs crawled on the sea floor. Fishes and reptiles swam in the water.

    The fossils of some animals were hidden in the rocks that Mary explored.

    How Mary learned about fossils
    Mary did not go to school much. Her family was too poor. And schools did not teach children about fossils.

    Mary could read and write. She taught herself. She learned about rocks (geology) and how bodies are made (anatomy).

    An exciting find
    In 1811 Mary and Joseph were fossil hunting. They were near a cliff, probably the same cliff her father had fallen off. Joseph saw a skull sticking out of the rock.

    Mary had a hammer to chip away at the rock. Very carefully she uncovered a skeleton. It looked like a crocodile. She had found the first complete fossil 'ichthyosaurus', or 'fish-lizard'.

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  • What happened to Mary?

    Mary and her friends
    Rich friends helped Mary by selling fossils for her. They sent her money. Scientists wrote letters and came to see her. One good friend was William Buckland, a professor at Oxford University.

    Mary was a celebrity. Yet she left Lyme Regis only once. She went to London.

    What Mary found
    Most days Mary went fossil hunting with her dog, Tray.

    She found a giant sea reptile, or Plesiosaur. She found a flying reptile, and a prehistoric fish.

    Mary liked to hunt on the beach after a storm. The wind, rain and waves made the rocks crumble. It was easy to spot fossils.

    What happened to Mary?
    Mary opened a shop to sell fossils, stones and shells. She chatted with visitors. She had a small pension, paid for by her friends.

    After a short illness, Mary Anning died in 1847.

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  • How fossils changed things

    Finding dinosaurs
    Other people were also fossil-hunters. In 1822, Mary Mantell found a prehistoric reptile. It was named Iguanodon. In 1841, Richard Owen made up the name 'dinosaur', which means 'terrible lizard'.

    People went hunting for dinosaurs all over the world.

    Why are fossils important?
    People had found fossils before Mary Anning. No-one knew what they were. Were they animals turned to stone by magic? Were they animals that died in The Flood, like in the Bible story, Noah's Ark?

    Clues to life long ago
    Fossils give us clues about how life was long ago. Some rocks are very old. If fossils are found in very old rocks, life must be very old too.

    Scientists think that life began in the seas many millions of years ago. The first fish swam around over 400 million years ago. The age of dinosaurs began about 240 million years ago and ended 65 million years ago.

    Change and evolution
    Prehistoric animals were not the same as living animals. Some animals died out. Different animals took their place. This is called evolution.

    How evolution works was explained by Charles Darwin, not long after Mary Anning died. Her fossils had helped scientists understand how things began.

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Games

Mary Anning Game

Mary Anning

Help Mary discover the fossils of prehistoric animals.

Fun Facts
  • When people first found fossil bones, they called them 'dragon's teeth'.
     
     
     

  • In 1677 a dinosaur bone was dug up in England. Everyone said it was a giant's bone!
     
     

  • Before the 1800s many people believed the Earth was about 6,000 years old. It's actually 4.5 billion years old! (A billion = 1,000 million)

  • Mary became an expert on fossil poo! (Scientists call fossil poo 'coprolite'.)
     
     
     

  • Fossil back bones (vertebrae) were sold to seaside visitors as 'verteberries'.
     
     

Other famous scientists

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A to D

carpenter
A person who makes things from wood.
celebrity
A famous person.
dinosaur
A prehistoric reptile.

E to G

evolution
How living things change over long periods of time.
fossil
The remains of an animal or plant preserved in rock.
geology
The study of the Earth through rocks.

H to L

M to O

P to S

pension
Money paid to a person after they get old or stop work.
prehistoric
Something from a long, long time ago, before there were people and history books.
professor
A teacher at a university, someone who knows a lot.
reptile
Animals with scales, that lay eggs, such as lizards.
scientist
A person who studies how the world works.
skeleton
The frame of bones that supports an animal's body.
skull
The head bone of an animal.
stall
A small shop, on a table or cart that can be taken down or moved.

T to Z