British Museum collections, £12.99
Height: 80.000 cm
Width: 40.000 cm
Depth: 45.000 cm
Purchased by the British Museum in 1821
On loan from the Natural History Museum R808
Enlightenment: Natural world
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2 minutes, 34 seconds
Skull and lower jaw of an ichthyosaur
Found at Lyme Regis, Dorset, England in 1821
This large skull was collected by Mary Anning (1799-1847), one of the most famous fossil finders of her day. It is part of the skull and lower jaw of an ichthyosaur (Ichthyosaurus platyodon).
Mary Anning's family had earned a living for years by gathering fossils on the shore at Lyme Regis in Dorset to sell to collectors. Mary learned about the fossils from her parents, Richard and Mary (‘Molly') Anning, although there is a story that her flair resulted from being struck by lightning when she was one year old. This apparently changed her from a 'dull' to a 'lively' child.
Despite the lack of a formal education, Mary Anning became an expert on the fossils she found, and the most eminent geologists of the day often sought her advice. In the 1820s she became the first person in Britain to find complete specimens of an ichthyosaur, a plesiosaur and a pterodactyl.
The specimens that Anning collected can still be found in museums throughout Britain. The British Museum purchased this example shortly after Anning discovered it.
K. Sloan (ed.), Enlightenment. Discovering the (London, The British Museum Press, 2003)
C. Tickell, Mary Anning of Lyme Regis (Lyme Regis, Lyme Regis Philpot Museum, 1995)