Lily Wilder, 4, spotted a single, well-preserved dinosaur footprint near Bendricks Bay in South Wales last month in a discovery that has thrilled paleontologists (and likely a few jealous kids) around the world.
“It was on a low rock, shoulder height for Lily, and she just spotted it and said, ‘Look, Daddy,'” the girl’s mother, Sally Wilder, told NBC News.
She added that the girl is “really excited” but still hasn’t grasped the enormity of her discovery.
Lilly and her father, Richard, made the discovery in January, then reported it to the National Museum of Wales, which has since recovered the footprint for study.
Cindy Howells, curator of the museum’s paleontology department, described the footprint as “brilliant.”
“It really is stunning preservation,” she told NBC News. “You can see every detail of the muscles and where the joints are in the foot.”
A two-legged, toddler-sized Grallator likely made the footprint some 220 million years ago while dashing through some desert mud, according to a news release from the museum. Grallators measured about 75 centimetres tall and 2.5 metres long and ate mostly bugs and small animals.
The footprint itself was about 10 centimetres long — or smaller than little Lily’s footprints would have been in the sand.
Paleontologists have found ancient footprints in the same area in the past, but those were all left by crocodile-like creatures that once lived there.
No actual Grallator bones have ever been discovered, but similar footprints have been found in the United States and Canada. Researchers have used those footprints to predict a small, bipedal dinosaur — likely one of the earliest and smallest to walk the Earth.
“Dinosaurs first appeared around 230 million years ago, so this footprint represents a very important early point in their evolution, when the different groups of dinosaurs were first diversifying,” the museum said.
The footprint will be preserved at the National Museum Cardiff for study and future exhibition.