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Thu, 04 May 2023

Mary Anning visits Creswell Crags

Here at Creswell Crags, we feel very honoured to be hosting the maquette of a statue of palaeontologist, Mary Anning. She forms the central part of a temporary exhibition about palaeontology. 


Mary Anning

Mary Anning, born in 1799, lived in Lyme Regis, an area famous for fossil hunting. Mary herself collected fossils to sell in order to support her family. As well as small specimens, such as ammonites, she found much larger, and at times spectacular, fossils, including those of the ichthyosaur and the plesiosaur. However, she soon did much more than just collect.  

When Mary first discovered remains of the ichthyosaur, there was much debate about what sort of animal it was; some suggestions were that it was a crocodile or a fish. Yet during her lifetime, and in a large part due to her work, knowledge of this animal developed. Mary began collaborating with geologists, including William Buckland, William Conybeare and Henry De La Beche. Through these collaborations, and the sharing of her knowledge, more and more began to be understood about the extinct animals of that had once inhabited the area that is now Lyme Regis; it is now known that the ichthyosaur is an extinct marine reptile. 


The statue

Despite the importance of Mary’s work, up until recently, there had been no statue commemorating her in Lyme Regis. This was noted by a local teenager, Evie Swyer, and what followed was a campaign and funding to design and erect a statue fitting of the palaeontologist’s work. The charity, founded by Evie and her mother, is called Mary Anning Rocks. After many years of campaigning and hard work, they were successful, and in 2022, a statue sculpted by Denise Dutton was unveiled in Lyme Regis. 

The small maquette of this statue has been touring museums across the country, and currently forms part of an exhibition at Creswell Crags, until 2nd June. The exhibition explores what palaeontology is, what Mary Anning’s contributions were, and palaeontological work at Creswell Crags. This includes a film created by Cave Bear Films. 

Creswell Crags is very grateful to Many Anning Rocks and the Geologists’ Association for the loan of the maquette. 


Further reading 

An excellent source of further information and further reading is Sharpe, T. (2020) The Fossil Woman: a life of Mary Anning. Dorset: The Dovecote Press, pp. 240. 


Image: Mary Anning statue created by Denise Dutton. Image credit: Mary Anning Rocks.