It’s not that common to stumble upon ancient fossils while you’re merely out on a stroll by the lake. But, according to Wate.com, 11-year-old Ryleigh Taylor managed to score “a pretty lucky find.”
The young girl, who lives in East Tennessee, was out walking along the banks of Douglas Lake in Dandridge when she came across something unusual on the lake’s shore. Her discovery turned out to be a 475-million-year-old fossil belonging to an extinct marine creature from the Paleozoic Era.
Colin Sumrall, an associate professor of paleobiology at the University of Tennessee, was called in by the girl’s family to authenticate the find. Sumrall identified the 475-million-year-old fossil as a trilobite, an ancient marine arthropod that populated the waters around East Tennessee millions of years ago.
“It’s actually fairly unusual for someone to find a fossil,” Sumrall said in an interview with Wral.com.
The trilobite fossil was found completely intact, which is a rarity among fossils of this species, and was picked up by Ryleigh after the 11-year-old spotted it lying on top of a rock, the girl’s mother, Tammy Taylor, revealed in the interview.
Sumrall described Ryleigh’s discovery as a stroke of luck and explained that trilobite fossils are rarely uncovered in such a good condition.
“Typically, when we look at fossils of trilobites, they molt when they grow. So, what happens is, the trilobite skeleton just crumbles into hundreds of little pieces,” Sumrall told his interviewer.
“To find one where all the pieces are intact, it’s actually a pretty lucky find,” the paleobiologist added.
Ryleigh thinks her discovery is “really, really cool.” The 11-year-old told journalists that she hopes other kids her age will be inspired by her lucky find and start going out more often to spend their time exploring nature rather than playing video games.
As for Sumrall, he believes that Ryleigh’s fortunate uncovering could end up having a major impact on the girl’s future.
“To find something like that, it could spark this youngster into a whole career. Maybe she’ll become a great paleontologist one day.”
According to Fossilera, trilobites are among the earliest known groups of arthropods and one of the first animals to have evolved the sense of vision. Trilobites got their name from the structure of their bodies, which are segmented into three lobes: a left pleural lobe, an axial lobe, and a right pleural lobe. These marine creatures are probably most closely related to modern horseshoe crabs and molted their exoskeleton much like lobsters of today.
There are more than 600 trilobite species recorded by science. Some of these species were microscopic in size; others grew to be quite large. One such example is Isotelus rex, which could reach up to two feet in length.
Although an unusual occurrence, this is not the first time that a child serendipitously comes across a valuable fossil. Earlier this year the Inquisitr reported that a 10-year-old boy discovered a rare 90-million-year-old “lizard fish” fossil in the courtyard of a Colombian monastery.