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Mary Anning
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Scientist
    (May 21, 1799-March 9, 1847)
    Born in Lyme Regis, England, United Kingdom
    Paleontologist and fossil collector
    Discoveries included the first ichthyosaur skeleton to be correctly identified, the first two plesiosaur skeletons and the first pterosaur skeleton found outside Germany
    Discovered that coprolites were fossilized feces
    Discovered that fossil belemites contained ink sacs similar to those of modern squids and octopi
    She was named after an older sister who died when her clothes caught fire.
    People in Lyme Regis attributed her curiosity and intelligence to her being struck by lightning when she was 15 months old.
    She started as a fossil hunter not out of scientific curiosity but to augment the family's income by selling them to tourists as curios.
    She published only one scientific article in her lifetime, a letter to the Magazine of Natural History (1839).
    She wrote, 'The world has used me so unkindly, I fear it has made me suspicious of everyone.'
    She may have inspired the 'She sells seashells' tongue twister.
    She made her first major find, an ichthyosaur skeleton, when she was twelve.
    Fossil hunting among the area's cliffs was dangerous work; she was nearly killed by an avalanche that buried her dog (1833).
    Despite a limited education, she kept up with the latest scientific literature, becoming an expert in the field.
    Her fossil shop was visited by collectors and geologists from throughout Europe and America, including King Frederick Augustus II of Saxony.
    As a woman and a member of the working class, she was not allowed to become a member of the Geological Society of London.
    Scientific descriptions of the fossils she found were inevitably written by the gentlemen scholars who bought them, many of whom neglected to mention her part in their discovery.
    A friend noted, 'These men of learning have sucked her brains, and made a great deal of publishing works, of which she furnished the contents, while she derived none of the advantages.'
    One scientist who did show his appreciation was Louis Agassiz, who thanked her in 'Studies of Fossil Fish' and named two species after her.
    The Royal Society named her one of the ten most influential British women in the history of science (2010).

Credit: C. Fishel


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