What may sometimes be an arduous process for fossil hunters came easily for a little girl. She found the perfectly preserved footprint of a dinosaur that was probably about 29.5 inches tall, 8 feet long, and walked on its two hind feet.
Four-year-old Lily Wilder, from Barry, South Wales, was the first to spot a 220-million-year-old dinosaur footprint while on a walk in January. The find is very important scientifically, as it is from an early point in the evolution of dinosaurs when the different groups were first diversifying.
Lily found the footprint embedded in a loose block of fossilized desert mud near the sea at Bendricks Bay, an established hotspot for dinosaur and ancient crocodilian footprints. As the region was already famous for its footprints, Wilder and her family reached out to curator Cindy Howells at Amgueddfa Cymru, the National Museum of Wales Palaeontology department. That’s when it turned out that the four year old had come upon something very special. It is hoped to shed more light on how dinosaurs walked.
Howells, who is an expert of the Bay’s footprints, described the Wilders’ find as the best preserved specimen ever found in the area. As she explaned, the print is clear enough to show individual pads and even claw impressions, which could reveal new information about the early morphology of dinosaur feet.
It’s impossible to determine what kind of dinosaur left the print, but the specimen’s shape places it within a group of footprints known as Grallator. These are a common type of small, three-toed prints, thought to have been left by a range of bipedal theropod dinosaurs. At 10 centimeters (3.9 inches) long, the creature that made the print is estimated to have been around 75 centimeters (29.5 inches) tall and 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) long. Scientist think such dinosaurs walked on their two hind feet and were modest predators hunting small animals and insects.
As the shore where it was found is legally protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, Natural Resources Wales needed a special permit to remove the footprint for analysis. After permission was granted, the fossil was extracted to be delivered to National Museum Cardiff, where it will be studied and protected.
“This fossilised dinosaur footprint from 220 million years ago is one of the best-preserved examples from anywhere in the UK and will really aid palaeontologists to get a better idea about how these early dinosaurs walked,” noted Howells in a press release.
“During the Covid pandemic scientists from Amgueddfa Cymru have been highlighting the importance of nature on people’s doorstep and this is a perfect example of this. Obviously, we don’t all have dinosaur footprints on our doorstep but there is wealth of nature local to you if you take the time to really look close enough.”
And you don’t have to be older than four to do it.