In this portrait of the "princess of paleontology," Mary Anning is pointing to an ammonite, a common fossil found along Britain's "Jurassic Coast," which she called home.
Painting by B. J. Donne, courtesy the (British) Natural History Museum

Download this file

  • Select Text Level:

    On May 21, 1799, Mary Anning was born in the coastal town of Lyme Regis, Dorset, England. Anning would acquire many nicknames, including the “princess of paleontology,” the “mother of paleontology,” and, according to the British Natural History Museum, “the greatest fossil hunter the world has ever known.”
    Anning lived on Britain’s so-called “Jurassic Coast,” where fossils are preserved in limestone and chalk. With only a keen eye and small hammer, Anning collected and expertly documented some of the first fossils of ancient reptiles that swam (such as ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs) and flew (pterosaurs.) She also became an expert in identifying trace fossils—preserved evidence of the presence of an ancient organism, such as footprints. In fact, she was among the first to recognize the trace fossils known as “bezoar stones” for what they were—fossilized feces.
    Anning was recognized by some of the most prominent scientists of the 19th century, as well as leading scientific organizations such as the Geological Society of London—which she could not join because she was a woman.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    acquire Verb

    to get or take possession of.

    ancient Adjective

    very old.

    beach Noun

    narrow strip of land that lies along a body of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: beach
    bezoar Noun

    hard, indigestable mass found in the stomach of certain animals.

    chalk Noun

    a soft mineral. Also called limestone and calcium carbonate.

    cliff Noun

    steep wall of rock, earth, or ice.

    Encyclopedic Entry: cliff
    coast Noun

    edge of land along the sea or other large body of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: coast
    dinosaur Noun

    very large, extinct reptile chiefly from the Mesozoic Era, 251 million to 65 million years ago.

    document Verb

    to keep track of.

    feces Plural Noun

    waste material produced by the living body of an organism.

    fossil Noun

    remnant, impression, or trace of an ancient organism.

    Encyclopedic Entry: fossil
    geologic Adjective

    having to do with the physical formations of the Earth.

    ivory Noun

    hard, white substance that forms the teeth or tusks of some animals.

    Jurassic Adjective

    having to do with the time period between 190 million and 140 million years ago, characterized by an abundance of dinosaurs and ammonites.

    limestone Noun

    type of sedimentary rock mostly made of calcium carbonate from shells and skeletons of marine organisms.

    marine Adjective

    having to do with the ocean.

    museum Noun

    space where valuable works of art, history, or science are kept for public view.

    paleontology Noun

    the study of fossils and life from early geologic periods.

    Encyclopedic Entry: paleontology
    preserve Verb

    to maintain and keep safe from damage.

    prominent Adjective

    important or standing out.

    pterosaur Noun

    extinct order of flying reptiles that flourished from 220 million-65 million years ago.

    recognize Verb

    to identify or acknowledge.

    reptile Noun

    animal that breathes air and usually has scales.

    shore Noun


    trace fossil Noun

    preserved evidence of the presence or behavior of an ancient organism, such as tracks, feces, or burrows.