475 Million Year Old Trilobite Fossil is Discovered By a Young Girl in Tennessee

Thursday, 03 May 2018 - 6:34PM
Thursday, 03 May 2018 - 6:34PM
475 Million Year Old Trilobite Fossil is Discovered By a Young Girl in Tennessee
< >
Flickr/James St. John

You're not going to find a trilobite on your next walk about town, but there's always a chance you come across some ancient remnants of one.

Such was the case for 11 year-old Ryleigh Taylor in East Tennessee, who came across a fossilized and completely intact trilobite while walking along the shore of Douglas Lake. Unusually, the fossil was just sitting out on a rock and was fairly intact, and her family ended up taking it to an associate paleobiology professor at the University of Tennessee to confirm the find.

Unusual circumstances aside, it turned out to be legitimate.

Trilobites, having lived about 521 - 252 million years ago, are some of the oldest known arthropods and are extremely old animals in general, with the species dying out just before the era of dinosaurs began. They might have lived longer if not for the Permian Extinction event, but traces of them are still found all over the world.

We've found many trilobite fossils in the past simply because they have exoskeletons which can become fossilized very easily, but that still doesn't make a full trilobite fossil simple to find. The associate professor, Colin Sumrall, was impressed by the discovery and said the following to WATE-TV:

Opening quote
"Typically when we look at fossils of trilobites, they molt when they grow. So what happens is, when the trilobite skeleton just crumbles into hundreds of little pieces. To find one where all the pieces are intact, it's actually a pretty lucky find."
Closing quote

This isn't the first time non-paleontologists have come across fossils seemingly just lying around. A 10 year-old boy stumbled across a 10 million year-old fish fossil in Colombia just a few months ago, and ended up contributing a valuable find to the fossil record simply because he came across it before anyone else. 

The idea that somebody could come across a fossil that's 475 million years old sounds less crazy when you remember that modern humans have only existed for just over 200,000 - 300,000 years, so that Tennessee trilobite was likely being passed over for a long time up until now.

For now, this particular trilobite is likely to end up in a museum, where it will be much easier for people to get a close look at.

Science News