#fossilfriday: Early sketch of a plesiosaur by discoverer Mary Anning

This drawing shows one of the first plesiosaur (long-necked marine reptile) skeletons found by Mary Anning in the winter of 1823-4. Anning, an English woman living on the south coast in Dorset, was one of the most important fossil collectors in scientific history and, with her family, discovered the remains of many new species, including plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs and pterosaurs. Many of these finds were stunningly complete, including the plesiosaur depicted here in one of her letters to a potential buyer. One of Anning’s plesiosaur fossils was described as a new species and became the type specimen of the genus Plesiosaurus. Overall, Anning’s discoveries changed Victorian thinking about ancient life and extinctions, although as a working-class woman she was not admitted to scientific or academic circles and her name was frequently omitted from publications and museums that used her finds.

Read more about Mary Anning and her contributions to palaeontology here.

Type specimen: All species, genera and other taxonomic groups are defined by individual specimens which display all the definitive characters of that group. These specimens, also called holotypes, are extremely important and very precious.

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