Mary Anning

Mary Anning (1799–1847) was a famous English fossil hunter and collector. Despite her poor background and limited education, she was the first to discover and identify many important pre-historic fossils. She lived at a time when women were rarely taken seriously in science. During her lifetime she received little recognition for her work, despite helping to change our understanding of ancient creatures and evolution. Find out more about this dedicated and determined woman, and use our printable resources to celebrate her life.

Mary Anning

Fun Facts

  • When Mary was just 15 months old, she survived a lightning strike. A neighbour was looking after her, while standing under an elm tree with two other women. Lightning struck the tree and all three women were killed, but Mary miraculously survived. She had been a sickly child, but after the strike seemed to have robust health. Many people also believed Mary’s intelligence, determination and lively personality were triggered by this incident.
  • It is said that Mary Anning’s life inspired the tongue twister ‘she sells sea shells on the seashore.’
  • Mary only made one trip away from home in her lifetime, to visit London.

Mary Anning Quotes

“It is large and heavy but… it is the first and only one discovered in Europe.”

“The world has used me so unkindly, I fear it has made me suspicious of everyone.”

A Short Biography of Mary Anning

Mary Anning was born in 1799 in Lyme Regis, Dorset, England. She was the eldest of ten children born to Molly (Mary) and Richard Anning, but only Mary and her brother Joseph survived into adulthood.

Mary’s father was a carpenter by trade, but also a keen amateur fossil hunter. To supplement his income, he would clean and polish fossil findings and sell them to tourists on the beach. Mary learnt much about fossil hunting from her father. The cliffs near their seaside home had lain beneath the sea 200 million years ago. Now they were rich in the fossilised remains of prehistoric sea creatures.

Mary didn’t go to school because her family needed her to earn money, but she learnt to read and write at Sunday School. She began to teach herself about rocks and anatomy (body parts) and learnt to draw very detailed and accurate drawings of her fossil findings.

When Mary was 11, her father died from a disease called tuberculosis and injuries he had sustained during a cliff fall. The family were grief-stricken and left even poorer than before. Mary was determined to support her family. She went fossil hunting most days with her dog, Tray. She particularly liked hunting after a storm, when the waves, wind and rain caused the rocks to crumble.

In 1811, just a year after their father’s death, Mary and her brother were out fossil hunting when Joseph saw a skull within the rocks. A few months later, Mary returned and slowly uncovered the rest of the skeleton. It turned out to be a nearly complete 17-foot skeleton of a marine reptile from the time of the dinosaurs. Mary sold the skeleton to a local collector for £23, and it eventually went to London’s Natural History Museum, where it was named Ichthyosaurus (‘fish lizard’) in 1817.

People had found fossils before, but no-one understood what they were, and no-one knew about dinosaurs. Mary also discovered a flying reptile (pterosaur) in 1828. But perhaps her most important find was in 1823, when she unearthed the complete skeleton of a nine-foot swimming reptile, later named plesiosaur.

Mary shared her knowledge with important scientists of the time, who came to visit her and the fossils she had found. But the scientific world was not so kind. Many articles described her work but didn’t reference Mary, and many of her findings joined important fossil collections with no credit given to her.

In 1826, Mary opened a shop in Lyme Regis. She sold most of her fossils to support herself. But in 1838, was granted an annual income to continue her work from the British Association for the Advancement of Science and London’s Geological Society. This was despite the fact that, as a woman, she couldn’t become a member.

Mary died from breast cancer in 1847, at the age of 47. She had never married and her only surviving family were her brother Joseph and his wife Amelia. Mary was buried at Lyme Regis Parish Church, where later the Geological Society paid for a large stained-glass window to be installed in her memory.

Our Mary Anning Resources

Design a Women in Science Poster

Design a Women in Science Poster

There are a still a lot fewer women working in science and engineering compared to men. Can the kids use their persuasive writing skills and an eye-catching design to create a poster encouraging more girls to consider a science or engineering career? 

Design an Award for Mary Anning Worksheet

Design an Award for Mary Anning Worksheet

Mary Anning received little recognition for her achievements during her lifetime. Put that right by designing a medal for her now! What would be on it ... one of her dinosaurs?

Drawing Fossils Worksheet

Drawing Fossils Worksheet

Paleontologists often draw the fossils they find. The letter on the right shows a drawing of a plesiosaur by Mary Anning. This worksheet asks children to look closely at a fossil and draw it with as much detail as possible.

Ichthyosaurus Tracing Page

Ichthyosaurus Tracing Page

Kids can trace over the dotted lines on this ichthyosaurus, and then colour him in. What modern sea creature does the ichthyosaurus remind you of?

Learn To Draw An Ichthyosaurus

Learn To Draw An Ichthyosaurus

Did you know that the ichthyosaurus was discovered in Lyme Regis by Mary Anning in 1817? Why not let the kids have a go at drawing one and then learn a little about that remarkable lady...

Learn to Draw Mary Anning

Learn to Draw Mary Anning

Children can practise their people-drawing skills with this step by step lesson on how to draw Mary Anning.

Lyme Regis Poster

Lyme Regis Poster

This poster of Lyme Regis in Dorset shows the rich hunting ground that Mary Anning had at her disposal for fossil hunting. Lying under the sea 200 million years ago, the beaches and cliffs were rich in the fossilised remains of prehistoric sea creatures.

Lyme Regis Story Paper

Lyme Regis Story Paper

You could use this photo of modern Lyme Regis - the hunting ground for fossil collector and paleontologist Mary Anning, to write about her life and achievements. Or it could provide the basis for a story about a visit to the Dorset seaside!

Mary Anning and the Geological Society Worksheet

Mary Anning and the Geological Society Worksheet

Mary Anning was not allowed to join the Geological Society because she was a woman - a fact which might seem strange to today's children. This worksheet ask the children to write to the Society arguing for her to become a member.

Mary Anning Booklet

Mary Anning Booklet

Our famous people booklets are a fun and different way for kids to record and present their work. Our Mary Anning booklet features a beautiful illustration and plenty of space for writing facts and information too.

Mary Anning Colouring Page

Mary Anning Colouring Page

Our simple colouring pages are a great way to introduce famous people to younger children - this colouring page features palaeontologist Mary Anning. 

Mary Anning Comprehension

Mary Anning Comprehension

Read about fossil hunter Mary Anning and then see what you can remember by answering the questions on our Mary Anning comprehension.

Mary Anning Factsheet

Mary Anning Factsheet

Learn about the remarkable Mary Anning with the help of our printable short biography, written specially for kids.

Mary Anning Interview Worksheet

Mary Anning Interview Worksheet

This interview worksheet helps the children practise writing open questions and asks them to imagine they are a talk show host interviewing Mary Anning.

Mary Anning Poster

Mary Anning Poster

Our simple posters are perfect for introducing famous people to younger children. Print this simple poster of Mary Anning and use in displays and topic work.

Mary Anning Poster 2

Mary Anning Poster 2

This poster reproduces a portrait of Mary Anning (and her dog) with her local cliffs, where she found her fossils, behind her. Please be aware that the quality of the print isn't good.

Mary Anning Quote Worksheet

Mary Anning Quote Worksheet

The male-dominated scientific world of her times certainly treated Mary Anning unkindly, never crediting her for her discoveries and achievements. Was she treated unkindly in other ways? From their research about her life, what do the children think this quote of hers means.

Mary Anning Story Paper

Mary Anning Story Paper

Use our story paper to write all about English fossil hunter Mary Anning and her amazing discoveries.

Mary Anning Story Paper 2

Mary Anning Story Paper 2

This useful story paper has a stunning picture of Mary Anning stood at the Jurassic coastline where she made her important finds, and lots of space to write facts about her too.

Mary Anning Word Search

Mary Anning Word Search

Search for words relating to the life of Mary Anning, fossil hunter and paleontologist, in this word search puzzle. We've included the names of the dinosaurs she discovered.

Mary Anning Worksheet

Mary Anning Worksheet

Find out a little about Mary Anning with the help of the prompts on this fact-finding worksheet. 

Mary Anning Writing Page

Mary Anning Writing Page

Use this simple writing paper - available in colour or black and white - to write about palaeontologist Mary Anning.

Mary Anning's Diary

Mary Anning's Diary

Write a diary entry by Mary Anning, remembering one of her fossil discoveries. You might want to draw an illustration too.

My Prehistoric Creature Worksheet

My Prehistoric Creature Worksheet

This worksheet asks children to take on the role of a fossil hunter and imagine that they have discovered a previously unknown prehistoric creature, and to draw and describe it.

Remembering Mary Anning Worksheet

Remembering Mary Anning Worksheet

When Mary Anning died, a stained glass window was created in her memory in St Michael's Church, Lyme Regis. Use the template below to design your own stained glass window to mark her life.

Tongue Twister Worksheet

Tongue Twister Worksheet

The tongue twister "She sells seashells" is said to be about fossil hunter Mary Anning! This worksheet encourages children to try writing their own tongue twister.

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