Mary Anning and the Jurassic Coast are forever intertwined, their stories etched not only in history books but also in the very layers of rock that make up this stunning stretch of English coastline.

Mary, born in 1804 in Lyme Regis, became one of the most renowned fossil hunters the world has ever seen.

She lived until the middle of the 19th century - a meagre 48 years.

From a young age, Mary and her brother Joseph explored the beaches and cliffs, their hammers chipping away at the secrets hidden within the Jurassic Coast's rocks.

These were no ordinary rocks; they were time capsules, preserving the remains of creatures that lived millions of years ago, during the Jurassic period.

Anning lived through an early life of privation and hardship to become what one source called "the greatest fossilist the world ever knew".

She learned to collect fossils from her father, Richard, a cabinet maker by trade and a fossil collector by vocation. But he died at age 44 in 1810, leaving his family destitute. They relied on charity to survive.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News: Mary AnningMary Anning (Image: Supplied)

After her father's passing, Mary worked with the leading scientists of the day to ensure England's place in the forefront of the developing field of palaeontology.

In Lyme the pursuit of fossil collecting was a perilous endeavour. Anning, with unwavering determination, traversed the treacherous terrain beneath the precarious cliffs during the ebbing tide, in search of precious specimens that were liberated from their rocky confines.

Throughout her adolescent years, the Anning family established themselves as formidable fossil hunters, amassing both renown and a business.

During the year 1817, their paths crossed with Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Birch, an affluent enthusiast of fossils who soon joined their circle of supporters.

Crediting the family's contributions, he acknowledged their pivotal role in the major discoveries made in the field and arranged to sell his personal collection of fossils for the family's benefit.  Most of Anning's fossils were sold to institutions and private collectors and museums tended to credit only people who donated the fossils to the institution. Because of this, historians have long grappled with the challenge of tracing the origins of numerous fossils found by Mary.

Mary did have some recognition for her intellectual mastery of the anatomy of her subjects from Lady Harriet Silvester, who visited Anning in 1824 and recorded in her diary: "The extraordinary thing in this young woman is that she had made herself so thoroughly acquainted with the science that the moment she finds any bones she knows to what tribe they belong By reading and application she has arrived to that greater degree of knowledge as to be in the habit of writing and talking with professors and other clever men on the subject, and they all acknowledge that she understands more of the science than anyone else in this kingdom."

Among Mary's most groundbreaking discoveries was the complete skeleton of an Ichthyosaurus, a marine reptile resembling a dolphin, in 1821.

This was the first complete Ichthyosaurus ever found, and it revolutionised our understanding of these ancient creatures.

Mary's finds continued to astound the scientific community. She unearthed the first complete Plesiosaurus skeleton in 1831, a long-necked marine reptile, and the first Pterodactylus skeleton outside of Germany in 1829, a flying reptile.

She also discovered the first British Pterodactylus macronyx, a fossil flying reptile, the Squaloraja fossil fish, a transitional link between sharks and rays, and the Plesiosaurus macrocephalus.

Despite her remarkable contributions, Mary faced numerous challenges. As a woman and from a working-class background, she received little recognition for her work. Many of her discoveries were credited to male scientists, and she often struggled financially to support herself and her family.

However, Mary's passion for fossils never wavered. She continued to explore the Jurassic Coast, meticulously collecting and preparing specimens for sale to collectors and museums.

Her dedication and skill earned her the respect of many fellow paleontologists, and her legacy eventually gained the recognition it deserved.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News: The world's first discovery of a complete ichthyosaur made by Mary Anning and her brother Joseph in 1811 is in Lyme Regis Museum The world's first discovery of a complete ichthyosaur made by Mary Anning and her brother Joseph in 1811 is in Lyme Regis Museum (Image: Supplied)

Today Mary Anning is celebrated as a pioneer in paleontology. Her discoveries helped shape our understanding of the Jurassic period and the creatures that lived during that time.

With the rise of Anning's reputation among scientists, the influx of tourists to Lyme also grew.

During the final years of her life, Anning was granted a yearly allowance from the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1838.

Additionally, the Geological Society of London collected funds on her behalf, and she was bestowed the title of the first honorary member of Dorset County Museum. It was one year before her passing from breast cancer that she received the honour.

The publication of her obituary in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society marked a significant moment, as this organization did not open its doors to women until 1904 However, there are gaps and inconsistencies in her personal history. Numerous narratives about her existence have been embellished, and the tales of her early experiences have taken on an almost legendary quality.

In her era, she became a source of fascination, drawing travellers to the charming town of Lyme Regis and the children's tongue twisting rhyme "She sells sea shells on the sea shore" was all about Anning and her fossil enterprise.

Kate Winslet played the lead role of Mary Anning in the 2020 romantic drama film Ammonite.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News: A scene from the film Ammonite A scene from the film Ammonite (Image: PA/Lionsgate UK)

Winslet's performance in Ammonite was widely praised, with many critics calling it one of her best. She was nominated for an award for her work.

Mary Anning's story is one of resilience, passion, and a deep connection to the natural world. It is a reminder that even the most unlikely individuals can make extraordinary contributions to science and inspire generations to come.