The world’s smallest dinosaur footprint is the size of a penny.
The first known fossil of this fooprint - which belongs to a dinosaur called Coelophysis, roughly the size of a sparrow - is on view at the Parrsboro Rock and Mineral Shop Museum in Parrsboro, Nova Scotia. The shop, founded in 1948, is Canada’s oldest registered rock shop and its proprietor, Eldon George, a local hero and “rockstar” in the geologic field for this and other history-making finds.
The shop is nothing special on the outside: a decrepit, slatted relic, covered in chipped red paint, with no more than a very small hand-painted sign out front to let you know you’ve reached the right place. But it’s noticeable nonetheless. Tables upon tables heaped with rocks, stones, and wooden carvings line the mangy lawn and its windows are filled to the brim with humongous chunks of amethyst, quartz, and other semi-precious stones. Inside, the shop is even more cluttered with found objects, curio cases full of local fossils, rocks, minerals, sculptures made with natural materials, a very complete history of the area’s landscape, and touristy trinkets. Roughly half of the space is dedicated to the museum, including the famous dinosaur prints, which are actually not that impressive in person (but they are really, really small).
The museum’s collection spans an impressive 300-million-year range of found fossils, both local and global discoveries, newspaper clippings, and pictures of several of George’s more noteworthy finds, an important zeolite collection and lots of exotic seashells.
Parrsboro is located on Nova Scotia’s western coastline, off an inlet known as the Minas Basin in the Bay of Fundy, where the world’s most drastic tide changes occur. The town is home to 1,500 residents and three museums, two of which - including the Rock & Mineral Shop - are dedicated to the area’s remarkable geologic history. When the tide recedes in Parrsboro, it leaves miles of ocean floor exposed and ready for exploration. It’s one of the best places in the world for rockhounding and fossil-finding.
Parrsboro, however, was not always known as such. George’s discovery of the dinosaur footprints put the town on the world map in the early 1980s. On March 31, 1983, during one of his frequent fossil-hunting trips at Wasson Bluff, a cliff near the Parrsboro Harbour, George saw three tiny prints disappear into some rock on the ocean floor. He spent the rest of the day - thanks to a receding tide - unearthing the full fossil, 21 tiny footsteps in all. George knew he had found something unusual, perhaps even monumental, so he called a geology professor from Princeton out to Parrsboro to see the fossil, guarding the rock when the tide would recede for three days until the professor arrived. The discovery made Eldon George famous in geological circles and started a fossil gold rush in Nova Scotia and other parts of Canada. Neil Shubin, the guy that discovered Tiktaalik, the famous “fish with hands,” spent time in Parrsboro while he was a student, thanks to Eldon George. George has even been in a National Geographic spread, which you can also see at the Rock and Mineral Shop.
Eldon George is retiring now and the Parrsboro Rock and Mineral Shop Museum is for sale.
Update: Eldon has gifted/sold his collection to the local geological (Nova Scotia). His place is no longer in existence.