Boy Tripped Over A Million-Year-Old Fossil In New Mexico

Woman in pink shirt next to partially uncovered skull and tusk

Jude Sparks was walking with his family in Las Cruces, N.M. when he tripped over the fossilized tusk of a long-extinct Stegomastodon.

Sparks said: "My face landed next to the bottom jaw".

"I was running ... and I tripped on part of the tusk". The now-extinct ancient relative of the elephant had two enormous tusks that curved upward and stood almost 3m tall. Fox News gets more scientific, explaining they're "a primitive group of proboscideans ('elephantoids') from which modern elephants evolved".

Houde said he isn't very optimistic, saying bones get scattered far and wide and even if they were only 5-10 feet apart that would entail a lot of earth moving given the topography of this location. "The preservation of ours is truly unusual, but a great deal of that may be due to the fact that we were able to locate them while they were still deep underground", Houde said.

In 2014, a bachelor party camping at Elephant Butte State Park in southern New Mexico discovered a almost complete fossilised skull of a Stegomastodon.

Although Stegomastodon also would've looked pretty similar to a mastodon, the two are in different family groups, according to Ross MacPhee, curator professor of Mammalogy/Vertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Houde hopes to display the remains at the university. The private landowner did let them excavate the skull but with one condition: the precise site should remain confidential.

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The jaw weighs about 120 lbs.

Their research didn't turn up a clear answer, so they turned to Houde, who identified it as part of a stegomastodon skull. "It's mostly hollow and the surface of the skull is eggshell thin", Houde said. Despite its size, the skull is very delicate. That makes the thing extremely fragile and the only thing holding it together is the sediment surrounding it.

Student volunteers, the Sparks family and the professor all pitched in and dug the fossil out by hand and with some heavy machinery to preserve it.

The team was able to unearth a almost complete skull, only missing a tusk.

Despite being largely intact, the team were cautious to warn other members of the public about how hard it is to preserve these fossils once they are out of the ground. "Otherwise, it would just crumble after a few days being left in the sun". The unearthed fossil was coated with plaster and placed in wood braces for support during transport. A front-end loader then lifted the skull into a truck to be taken back to the university.

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