As It Happens

'Daddy, look at this:' 4-year-old discovers dinosaur footprint on the beach

Four-year-old Lily Wilder used to be afraid of dinosaurs — until she discovered one of their 200-million-year-old footprints in a fossilized rock at the beach.

Lily Wilder of Wales will have her name featured on a plaque alongside 220M-year-old fossil

Four-year-old Lily Wilder, right, points to the fossilized dinosaur footprint she discovered while walking along a beach in Wales with her family. (Submitted by Richard Wilder)

This article was originally published Feb. 1, 2021.

Read Story Transcript

Four-year-old Lily Wilder used to be afraid of dinosaurs — until she discovered one of their 200-million-year-old footprints in a fossilized rock at the beach.

Now the preschooler carries a toy Tyrannosaurus rex everywhere she goes as she waits for the moment she can see her discovery in a museum, alongside a plaque with her name on it. 

"We just went for a little walk on the beach, really not thinking anything special was going to happen, and then Lily sees the fossil and said, 'Daddy, look at this,'" Lily's father, Richard Wilder, told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"It was almost too good to be true, how realistic it was. It was almost like someone had etched into the rock."

The family spotted the fossil while out for a walk on Bendricks Bay in south Wales. The beach is known for its dinosaur footprints, though the Wilders didn't know that.

Paleontologists say Lily's fossil is one of the best specimens ever discovered there.

"This fossilised dinosaur footprint from 220 million years ago is one of the best-preserved examples from anywhere in the U.K. and will really aid paleontologists to get a better idea about how these early dinosaurs walked," Cindy Howells, curator at the Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum of Wales Palaeontology, said in a press release

"Its acquisition by the museum is mainly thanks to Lily and her family."

Dinosaurs first appeared on the Earth about 230 million years ago, which means this footprint "represents a very important early point in their evolution, when the different groups of dinosaurs were first diversifying," the museum said. 

As Wilder told As It Happens about Lily's discovery, the tiny fossil hunter could be heard playing in the background, wielding her T. rex and saying "Stompy stomp stomp" as she made it prance around making footprints of its own.

When asked if she's scared of dinosaurs now, Lily said: "I used to be scared of them and now I don't."

Lily's hand isn't much smaller than the dinosaur footprint she discovered. (Submitted by Richard Wilder)

But, she says, she was never afraid of the footprint she found on the beach, because it was so tiny — 10 centimetres long, to be exact. 

The museum says scientists can't be sure exactly what species of dinosaur made the print, but that it was likely about 2.5 metres long, and 75 centimetres tall.

"It was small," Lily said. 

"It was about your size, wasn't it?" her dad replied.

The Wilders found the footprint on Jan. 23, and immediately posted pictures to Facebook to see if anyone could identify it.

Not long after, they were contacted by a museum official who asked them to take the post down long enough for a team to get permission to extract the rock from the beach for further study.

Now that it's been authenticated, the footprint will soon be on display at the National Museum Cardiff for future generations of scientists and dinosaur lovers to appreciate.

Wilder says the display will feature a plaque listing Lily as its discoverer. The family plans to take her to see it when museums are open to the public again.

"That will be exciting, and she'll take all the school friends with her," Wilder said.

Asked if she'll go hunting for more fossils in the future, Lily enthusiastically replied: "Yuppee, yuppee!"

"Now she's a massive dinosaur fan," her dad said. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Richard and Lily Wilder produced by Niza Lyapa Nondo.

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