She Sells Seashells: Paleontologist Mary Anning

Mary Anning

Portrait of Mary Anning (pre-1842); image from Wikimedia Commons, date and provenance unknown. The original portrait is credited to the Geological Society [London]. A copy was rendered by B.J. M. Donne and is credited to the Natural History Museum in London.

I first saw this painting of Mary Anning in a 29 July Wooster Geologists blog post.

According to post writer Mark Wilson, Mary Anning (1799–1847) — “one of the most famous paleontologists of the 19th Century” — is credited with having discovered the first plesiosaur (Plesiosaurus dolichodeirus). Wilson writes, “Anning was a spectacularly successful fossil collector along the ‘Jurassic Coast’ of southern England.” One of Anning’s main work sites, the Golden Cap outcrop is shown in the painting’s background.

I really like this painting, for two reasons especially: Like any proper geologist, Anning is carrying a rock hammer — but note how she is pointing down toward her dog — an even more handy field companion, perhaps?

From childhood, Mary Anning made her living collecting and selling shells and fossils. Fun fact pointed out by Wilson (and according to Wikipedia): Anning is the basis for one of my favorite tongue-twisters:

She sells seashells on the seashore / The shells she sells are seashells, I’m sure / So if she sells seashells on the seashore / Then I’m sure she sells seashore shells.

Addendum: Right away, I received a comment (via Facebook) from my esteemed colleague, Ted Nield, at the Geological Society (London), who walks by the original portrait each day at the office: “She’s not pointing at the dog, her field companion, she’s pointing to the ammonite in the rock just next to the dog, which is not very clear in this reproduction. Have a look at the truly beautiful version here:

About Kea Giles

Writer, photographer, editor, wife, friend, sister, dog mother.
This entry was posted in brilliant, educational, science, seashells and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to She Sells Seashells: Paleontologist Mary Anning

  1. Mary Anning is a wonderful inspiration to little girl future geologists. I really enjoyed going to her home turf last summer:


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