The Royal Mint has released their second coin collection in their Tales of the Earth series celebrating the awe-inspiring ancient creatures discovered by Mary Anning in Britain © The Royal Mint

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Fossil hunter Mary Anning commemorated with new 50p coin collection

Self-taught palaeontologist Mary Anning is celebrated with a new collection of 50p coins, each featuring one of three prehistoric reptiles she discovered. The coins can be bought exclusively from The Royal Mint.

The first coin, featuring a Temnodontosaurus, is now available to buy.

Mary Anning was a fossil collector who, despite no formal training, had a knack for finding and digging up whole specimens. Until recently, her hard work and dedication was overlooked because she was an eighteenth-century woman whose work was overshadowed by her male contemporaries.

Thanks partly to the Museum, Mary's important contributions to palaeontology is finally being recognised, with growing media and public interest in the Dorset woman who quietly made a huge difference to our knowledge of extinct animals.

A recent campaign has even successfully raised the money to erect a statue of Mary in Lyme Regis, where she lived and worked.  

In further honour of Mary's work, the Museum has collaborated with The Royal Mint to design and package a new series of coins: The Mary Anning Collection. It features three of the creatures discovered by Mary: Temnodontosaurus, Plesiosaurus and Dimorphodon.

A fossilised Temnodontosaurus skull

The four-foot head of a Temnodontosaurus discovered by Mary Anning's brother, Joseph

Mary Anning's Jurassic finds

Temnodontosaurus is one of the oldest and largest known ichthyosaurs. It lived in deep, open ocean over 199 million years ago and grew between 9-12 metres long.

The marine vertebrate had a robust, fish-shaped body and a long tail which allowed it to swim rapidly.

Instead of individual teeth in a row, the Temnodontosaurus had many cones in a continuous groove. Scientists believe it fed on vertebrates such as fish, plesiosaurs, cephalopods and even other ichthyosaurs, by snapping its jaws rather than chewing.

The initial fossil of this ancient reptile - a four-foot-long (roughly 120 centimetres) skull - was unearthed by Mary's brother in 1811. The rest of the body was discovered by Mary the following year. Since then, many similar fossils have been found all over Europe.

A skeleton of a marine reptile with four paddles on either side of the body and a short tail

A near-complete skeleton of a Plesiosaurus displayed at the Museum

Plesiosaurus was a type of aquatic reptile that lived 228 million years ago. It had a distinct form with a small head at the tip of a long, slender neck, followed by a broad body with two large paddles on either side and a short tail.

The overall length of an adult plesiosaur was around 3.5 metres and its weight almost 500 kilograms.

The marine monster had simple, needle-like teeth curved around its jaw. It most likely lay quietly in wait for its prey to come close as its long neck would have been a hindrance if curved in a chase. The creature fed mostly on fish, possibly belemnites, an extinct order of cephalopods and ammonites.

While the first Plesiosaurus fossil was discovered in 1821, the first complete skeleton was found by Mary in 1823.

Plesiosaurus had a wide distribution range and many fossils have since been found in rocks all over Dorset, as well as in European seas and the Pacific Ocean including Australia, North America and Asia.

A coloured illustration of a flying animal with a long tail

An illustration of what a Dimorphodon probably looked like. Image by Dmitry Bogdanov/wiki (CC BY 3.0).

Dimorphodon is the earliest-known flying reptile and vertebrate distantly related to the dinosaurs.

The creature gets its name from the Greek word 'two-formed tooth' which refers to the two distinctly different teeth found in its jaw - a rare occurrence in pterosaurs. Four of the front teeth in the upper and lower jaws were large and fang-like, whereas the remaining 30-40 teeth were tiny and pointed.

Dimorphodon had a large head shaped like an over-sized beak, a relatively small, slender body of about a metre long, and a wingspan of around 1.4 metres.

Its diet isn't fully known although it most likely fed on insects, small vertebrates and possibly fish, as well as the decaying flesh of other animals.

The first Dimorphodon fossils were found by Mary in 1828. Since then, further fossils have been found on European shores as well as Central America.

An artist works on a digital illustration of a 50p coin with an ancient reptile printed on it

Robert Nicholls also designed the first coin collection released by The Royal Mint in 2020 © The Royal Mint

Recreating the past

Robert Nicholls, renowned British palaeoartist, based each illustration on scientifically accurate reconstructions of the reptiles and their environment. This was with the help of Sandra Chapman, Curator of Fossil Reptiles and Birds at the Museum.

The three coins also feature pictures of the fossils Anning discovered, as well as other ancient fauna and flora that lived alongside Mary's creatures.  

Using the latest colour printing techniques, Robert added an extra level of visual depth to the coins to capture what these creatures may have looked like millions of years ago.

The coins have also been combined with augmented reality technology which can be accessed via The Royal Mint's website. This allows people to explore the details of the prehistoric reptiles using a mobile device.

The coins, which are available in several colours will be released one at a time, starting with the Temnodontosaurus. They can also be pre-ordered at the same time.

Clare Maclennan, Divisional Director of Commemorative Coin at The Royal Mint says, 'It is an absolute pleasure to continue the popular Tales of the Earth commemorative 50p coin series in conjunction with the Natural History Museum.'

Clare Matterson, Executive Director of Engagement at the Museum, says, 'The Mary Anning Collection celebrates a pivotal figure in the understanding of palaeontology, important contributions to science that were rarely acknowledged in Mary's lifetime. It is fantastic to see Mary celebrated in such a special way in 2021.'