Beachcombers and fossil hunters will be all too aware of the sometimes arduous process of getting your eye in when searching for fossilized sharks’ teeth or the witness marks of an ammonite. It seems for Lily Wilder, four years old, from Barry, South Wales, the skill comes easily. The young paleontologist was the first to spot a 220-million-year-old dinosaur footprint while on a walk in January. The find represents a very important specimen academically speaking, as it was made at an early point in the evolution of dinosaurs when the different groups were first diversifying.
The footprint is remarkably well preserved, and it’s hoped it may reveal insights that could help scientists to build a clearer picture as to how dinosaurs walked. It was found embedded in a loose block of fossilized desert mud near the sea at Bendricks Bay, an established hotspot for dinosaur and ancient crocodilian footprints.
Suspecting the novel find was a new addition to the region’s famous footprints, Wilder and her family reached out to curator Cindy Howells from Amgueddfa Cymru, the National Museum of Wales Palaeontology department. No stranger to the Bay’s footprints, Howells described the Wilder’s find as the best specimen ever found in the area. The footprint 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 not possible to determine what kind of dinosaur left the print, but the specimen’s shape places it within a group of prints known as Grallator: a common type of small, three-toed prints that are thought to have been left by a range of bipedal theropod dinosaurs. At 10 centimeters (3.9 inches) long, it’s estimated the creature that made the print was around 75 centimeters (29.5 inches) tall and 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) long. Such dinosaurs most likely walked on their two hind feet, a modest predator hunting small animals and insects.
Natural Resources Wales made a special request to be permitted to remove the footprint for analysis, as the beach where it was found is legally protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. 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,” said 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.”