Fossil hunter Mary Anning celebrated in Lyme Regis

Image caption,
Mary Anning is thought to have inspired the tongue-twister "She sells sea shells"

It is 200 years since a young girl made a landmark discovery in Dorset.

In 1811, Lyme Regis fossil hunter Mary Anning - aged just 12 - and her older brother Joseph unearthed the 2m (6.5ft) long skull of an ichthyosaur.

Anning spent a year extracting the dinosaur fossil from 205 million-year-old Blue Lias cliffs on the beach.

It remains one of the most famous geological finds on the Jurassic Coast, yet Anning was never credited as a scientist.

Image caption,
The ichthyosaur fossil is on display in Lyme Regis until the end of September

Her life is being celebrated on 24 September during Mary Anning Day: 200 Years Of Discovery at Lyme Regis Museum.

But perhaps her most remarkable legacy is that her pioneering work still motivates many of today's experts.

Geologist Paddy Howe, from Lyme Regis, said: "Mary Anning had a huge amount of determination and is a great inspiration to me.

"To make the discoveries she did she must have been out in some terrible storms, and after landslides when the cliffs had been disturbed."

Born in 1799, Mary Anning, who is thought to have inspired the tongue-twister "She sells sea shells", was a self educated, working class woman from the "poor side" of town.

Her other discoveries included fossilised dinosaur faeces known as coprolites.

However, her sex and social class, in a society dominated by wealthy men, prevented her from fully participating in the scientific community of early 19th Century Britain.

Mary Goodwin, curator of Lyme Regis Museum which is built on the site of Anning's birthplace, said: "You were nothing in those days until you had your name published on a scientific paper."

A tool thought to have been used to extract fossils from the cliffs by Anning is housed at the museum, along with her notebook from the 1830s.

The book is filled with quotes and poems that were important to her.

Ms Goodwin said: "The book shines a light on her as a person, as opposed to the fossils she discovered.

"Although she never married or had children, the book suggests she had a romantic side."

American novelist Tracy Chevalier, who has written a fictional book based on facts about Anning, said: "There's evidence to suggest Mary had a romantic relationship that ended badly, but no one knows with whom.

Image caption,
One of Anning's discoveries was fossilised dinosaur faeces

"Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas James Birch organised an auction of specimens he had purchased from the Anning family in 1820 which raised £400.

"That was an awful lot of money in those days and he donated it back to the Anning family.

"I think that was a huge romantic gesture."

Anning also had a firm friendship with fossil collector Elizabeth Philpot.

Ms Chevalier said: "Elizabeth was a middle class woman and for the pair to be friends was most unusual.

"In other circumstances Mary would most likely have been a servant to Elizabeth, not a friend."

Anning survived a lightning strike as a baby which killed three other people.

Ms Chevalier said: "She was a sickly baby but became a lively and intelligent child and adult, which many people attributed to the lightning strike.

"She was an incredible woman."

Anning died of breast cancer in 1847, aged 47.

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