11-Year-Old Tennessee Girl Finds Rare 475-Million-Year-Old Fossil
An 11-year-old girl from Tennessee stumbled upon a rare fossil that was 475 million years old.
Ryleigh Taylor was fishing with her parents Monday when she decided to take a break and go for a walk.
“My friend took over the rod because I got tired, and I started to walk over all the rocks,” Ryleigh, 11, said. “Then on my way back I was looking down so I wouldn’t fall, and I thought it was a bug at first, so I went over to see what it was.”
Ryleigh called out to her parents three or four times to come look at her discovery: a fossil.
Ryleigh’s mom was skeptical.
“She knew it was a fossil, but she was trying to get us to come over and look at it, and I wouldn’t because I just knew it wasn’t…I just thought it was something on the rock,” Ryleigh’s mother Tammy Taylor said.
So, Ryleigh brought the fossil over to prove what it was.
“Oh my gosh, that is a fossil,” Tammy Taylor said she realized.
Tammy home-schools Ryleigh and thought following up with a scientist would be a good school project. Ryleigh was excited about that.
“We bring [the fossil] home and she keeps on to us about calling somebody and finding out what kind it is,” Tammy said. “Even the next morning, she woke up begging us to call. So finally, I got on the phone.”
It turns out Ryleigh’s fossil is a 475-million-year-old trilobite.
“She laughed and was jumping,” Tammy Taylor said of Ryleigh’s response when they found out how old the fossil was. “That’s hard to take in… 475 million years, that’s a long time.”
A trilobite is an arthropod, a group that includes insects and spiders. It would most closely relate to the modern horseshoe crab, said Colin Sumrall, assistant professor of paleobiology at the University of Tennessee.
Sumrall said he gets requests to look at “fossils” at least once a week. Ninety-five percent of them are not, in fact, fossils.
Ryleigh’s was. And her find is old.
“That’s about as old as you can get,” Sumrall said. “The oldest fossils are maybe a little older than that.”
A “little older,” meaning 540 million years old.
It’s even rarer to find an intact trilobite, as their fossils break into pieces, Sumrall said. Ryleigh’s fossil appears to be of an exoskeleton, which trilobites would shed as they grew.
Ryleigh said she will most likely continue to hunt for fossils. She just likes being outside and exploring.
“She wants kids to realize that they need to put their games down and their cell phones down and get outside and explore more,” Tammy Taylor said.