Wylie Brys was just four years old when he made a discovery that certainly isn’t your typical sandbox find.
The little boy from Mansfield, Texas, USA, discovered 100-million-year-old dinosaur bones while searching for fossils with his father, making him the youngest person to discover a fossil of an unknown dinosaur species.
Wylie was digging with his dad Tim at a construction site near a grocery store in their hometown when he made the extraordinary discovery.
“In September of 2014 we were looking for fossils at a construction site, formerly the Holland Farm, hoping to find some shark teeth, and we had just found some large fish vertebrae spread out along the graded hillside,” said Wylie.
I walked ahead of my dad to the far end of the hill and found a chunk of bone (a piece of rib) that had washed out of the hill from the last rainstorm.
Wylie showed his dad, who was very excited, and asked Wylie to take him to the spot where he had found it.
At the location, they found more pieces of bone which appeared to be from some sort of large animal.
The duo contacted a friend, Gerald Bogan, to see what they should do, and he helped them contact Rocky Manning from the Dallas Paleontological Society.
“Rocky helped us get the professors from Southern Methodist University (Louis Jacobs, Dale Winkler, and Mike Polcyn) out to the site to look at the bones,” said Wylie.
“The original thought was that it was either a giant sea turtle or Plesiosaur based on the first few bones.”
Work began on getting permission to excavate the fossils for SMU, but it took seven months to get the right paperwork that helped cover the landowners from liability if there was any sort of accident on site during the digging and removal.
“Bill Evans at the Dallas Zoo, where my mom and dad worked, was able to prepare the proper paperwork to start the excavation process,” said Wylie.
The removal coincided with a temporary animatronic dinosaur exhibit that the zoo was installing from the Billings Dinosaur Company which made for some cool publicity for the zoo as well.
During the excavation, it was noticed that the bones had legs instead of flippers as well as large shoulder spikes and round osteoderms (armoured bones all over the body that are used for protection).
“Mike Polcyn was the first to suggest that the animal might be a type of armoured dinosaur called a Nodosaur,” said Wylie.
“It was important to my dad that we get the fossils somewhere that they could be used for research, especially since this area of the construction site was originally scheduled to be the corner of a Mcdonald's parking lot. He couldn’t bear the thought of some large prehistoric creature being paved over and sitting under a dumpster or something.”
Nodosaurs were land-dwelling dinosaurs the size of a pony that lived during the Jurassic period and sported plated armours.
After its discovery, the fossil was placed into a protective plaster and burlap jackets with extra support for making them more stable during transportation.
They were loaded onto a tow truck and taken to the paleontology lab at SMU for preparation and study.
Samples were taken above and below the fossils of both the Bentonite volcanic ash layers for dating the fossils and of the other kinds of fossils found in the dig area.
Based on analysis of the ash layers above and below the fossil, the bones are expected to be between 95.28 and 95.29 million years old.
“It’s possibly one of the best-dated fossils known because of the ash layers being found both above and below the fossil layer,” said Wylie.
It’s also possibly the youngest geologic-aged dinosaur in this region since it was found in the Eagleford Formation.
Wylie says the first fossil found was just a piece of rib and not much bigger than his hand, but altogether the body was much larger with pieces of the head, legs, vertebrae and shoulder spikes.
“The creature was possibly around 15 feet long, with short legs and a long tail,” he said.
“Not all of the animal was able to be collected. Some bones may have been lost when the hillside was graded by machinery and again when a narrow trench was dug through the site.”
The fossils are still being prepared at SMU, but they have made some exciting progress through CT scans of the upper body and skull.
“They are hoping to name it after Wylie as the finder, but it may still be a while in coming,” said Tim.
I also wrote a children’s book about the story of his find and the process it has gone through at SMU.
Wylie was very surprised and happy to have found the dinosaur fossil but was young enough that he didn’t truly realize the importance or rarity of what he had found.
“We were pretty amazed that Wylie received local, regional, national, and worldwide media attention for the find,” said Tim.
“Being four when he first found it made it a much bigger deal for the media.”
Although life has gotten much busier, Wylie still searches for fossils in his spare time and has found other nice remnants.
He hopes his once-in-a-lifetime find will inspire other kids to go outside and explore.
“So many kids sit in front of screens from day to day and get very little time outside with family, and some of the coolest dinosaur finds here in Texas have been by kids,” said Tim.
It’s so amazing and even more important to me, it’s a nice reminder for me of the special day we spent together when he was little and hopefully a nice reminder to him later in life.
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