A nine-year-old boy found a treasure trove of ancient fossils after literally falling into them last November, according to the New York Times
Jude Sparks was walking with his family in Las Cruces, N.M. when he tripped over the fossilized tusk of a long-extinct Stegomastodon. Spark’s family quickly notified New Mexico State University biologist Dr. Peter Houde who recognized just how significant the find was.
“It was just an odd shape,” Sparks told The New York Times Wednesday. “I just knew it was not something that you usually find.”
The tusk belonged to a Stegomastodon that lived at least 1.2 million years ago, Houde said. Stegomastodons are distantly related to elephants. Similar animals emerged roughly 4.9 million years ago and went extinct 30,000 years ago.
“We’re really, really grateful that they contacted us, because if they had not done that, if they had tried to do it themselves, it could have just destroyed the specimen,” Houde said. “It really has to be done with great care and know-how.”
Houde explained that the tusk was incredibly rare because similar fossils are typically destroyed by erosion after being exposed. The Spark family was incredibly lucky to stumble onto the fossil shortly after strong rains had exposed it. Houde wants to put the fossil on display at the university.
An adult Stegomastodon would have stood 8.5 feet tall and weighed 4.7 tonnes. Early humans may have hunted Stegomastodon.
Some media outlets have reported the find as a dinosaur, but Stegomastodon’s were mammals similar to modern day elephants or ancient woolly mammoth.
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