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Mary Anning's legacy to French vertebrate palaeontology


The real nature of marine reptile fossils found in England between the 1700s and the beginning of the 1900s remained enigmatic until Mary Anning's incredible fossil discoveries and their subsequent study by eminent English and French scientists. In 1820, Georges Cuvier acquired several ichthyosaur specimens found by Mary Anning, now kept or displayed in the Palaeontology Gallery of the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle (MNHN) in Paris. Four years later, Cuvier obtained a plesiosaur specimen from Mary Anning, only the second ever discovered. Cuvier was fascinated by these fossils and their study allowed him to apply his comparative anatomical method and to support his catastrophist theory. We have re-examined these important specimens from a historical point of view, and describe them here taxonomically for the first time since Cuvier's works. The Paris specimens belong to two different ichthyosaur genera (Ichthyosaurus and Leptonectes) and one plesiosaur genus (Plesiosaurus).

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