An East Tennessee youngster’s discovery turned out to be an artifact of a time gone by.

Ryleigh Taylor, 11, spotted a 475-million-year-old fossil when she was walking along the shore of Douglas Lake. 

“To find something like that, it’s really really cool,” said Ryleigh. “I looked down while I was walking and I found it, I just saw it.”

To get confirmation, her family reached out to Colin Sumrall, an associate professor of paleobiology at the University of Tennessee. 

“It’s actually fairly unusual for someone to find a fossil,” said Sumrall. 

Sumrall says Ryleigh found a trilobite, an extinct marine arthropod that lived in water around East Tennessee, millions of years ago. 

“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,” said Sumrall. 

The lucky find is something Ryleigh’s parents couldn’t believe at first. 

“I’m surprised that it was right on top of that rock, for anyone who could have found it. But I’m very proud of her,” said Tammy Taylor, Ryleigh’s mother. 

Ryleigh hopes other children will get out and enjoy nature, so they can see what they can find. 

“I can show kids that are my age that they don’t have to sit inside and play games. They can actually go outside and find different things,” said Ryleigh. 

Sumrall adds, “To find something like that, it could spark this youngster into a whole career. Maybe she’ll become a great paleontologist one day.”

There’s no telling what the future holds for Ryleigh. For now, she’s happy to continue exploring. Ryleigh doesn’t plan on keeping the fossil. She wants it to be displayed in a public museum so other people can enjoy it.