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Mary Anning's ichthyosaur - visiting Lyme Regis

Posted by John Jackson on Sep 23, 2011 9:27:53 AM

Mary Anning remains one of the most famous characters in the history of Palaeontology. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the discovery of the specimen that started her career. To mark this anniversary this specimen—comprising the skull and some post cranial elements of Temnodontosaurus platydon—has been loaned to the Lyme Regis Museum. The specimen was the first discovery of a complete Ichthyosaur and was made by Mary Anning and her brother Joseph in 1811 in the 205 million year old Jurassic Blue Lias from cliffs nearby. Now after 200 years the gigantic skull has returned to Lyme Regis to the museum built on the site of Mary’s childhood home, on loan from The Natural History Museum (London).


Soon after it was found in the Anning family sold the ichthyosaur to Henry Hoste Henley of Colway Manor in Lyme for £23. From there it was sent to London, probably by sea where it was exhibited at William Bullock’s Museum of Natural Curiosities. In 1819 the specimen was purchased by the British Museum (at the time the British Museum was made up of what is now the Natural History Museum, the current British Museum and the British Library).  It is in the Natural History Museum that it is normally exhibited alongside a host of other marine reptile remains. The skull’s return to Lyme Regis for the first time in 200 years was overseen by Palaeontology staff Drs Martin Munt and Tim Ewin.

 

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Martin Munt, Tim Ewin, Chris Andrews and Paddy Howe


Carrying the heavy, two metre-long specimen up the curved staircase to the geology gallery at Lyme Regis Museum proved to be too difficult. So with concern for the specimen’s safety, not to mention the backs of the local geologists including Paddy Howe and Chris Andrews who had turned out to help with the installation, the decision was taken to place the specimen in the Social History Gallery on the Ground Floor. where it will be on display until the end of September 2011. The loan has been made possible due to a grant of £1,000 from Natural England and the financial support of The Natural History Museum.


As Dr Martin Munt noted “it has been a privilege to help Lyme Regis Museum achieve their dream of bringing home this iconic fossil specimen to mark the 200th anniversary of its discovery. This loan has been the outcome of over a year’s planning and was supported by former Director of Science Dr Richard Lane, Keeper of Palaeontology Prof. Norm MacLeod, with technical assistance provided by the Head of the Palaeontology Conservation Unit, Chris Collins.”

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