On this date in 1799, fossil hunter Mary Anning was born. At age twelve or thirteen, she and her brother unearthed a 17-foot-long fish skeleton near their home on the southern coast of England. The prehistoric fish, called an Ichthyosaurus (pronounced IK-thee-oh-SAWR-us), or “fish lizard,” had “flippers like a dolphin, a mouth like a crocodile, and a pointed snout like a swordfish,” wrote Shelley Emling in The Fossil Hunter.
The discovery of the Ichthyosaurus launched the greatest fossil-finding career of the 19th century. Anning later uncovered a complete nine-foot Plesiosaurus (pronounced PLEH-see-oh-SORE-us), or “near lizard.” Despite her discoveries, she was prevented from presenting her work to the Geological Society of London, which prohibited women as members or guests, and the geologists who purchased her skeletons often gave Anning no credit when publishing their findings. “Even when her first Ichthyosaur was cited in scholarly journals, her part in its retrieval was omitted,” Emling wrote.