Nine-year-old stumbles on million-year-old stegomastodon

Kramer Phillips By Kramer Phillips | 3 years ago

A nine-year-old boy was roaming around the Organ Mountains near Las Cruces, New Mexico, with his family in November when he literally stumbled on a rare paleontological find: the fossilized skull of a million-year-old stegomastodon.

Jude Sparks, now 10, said at first the object he tripped on looked like “fossilized wood,” according to a report by The New York Times.

“It was just an odd shape,” Jude told the Times in a phone interview. “I just knew it was not something that you usually find.”

Jude showed his parents what he had found and because the skull-like object was so unusual, they emailed a photo of it to Peter Houde, a biology professor at New Mexico State University. Houde knew right away what Jude had discovered was the fossilized tusk of an ancient stegomastodon that lived at least 1.2 million years ago.

After months of preparation and getting a permit, a team finally excavated the skull in May.

Stegomastodons resembled mastodons in their elephant-like appearance. They belong to the family Gomphotheres and were distant cousins of ancient mammoths and modern elephants, a report by National Geographic said.

According to Dr. Houde, a find like Jude’s is “very unusual” because most prehistoric remains do not survive exposure to the elements. When Houde visited the site with the Sparks family the day after Jude’s discovery, they carefully reburied the fragile remains.

The cause of the stegomastodon’s extinction may have been climate change, according to Houde.

“They existed during a time when it was wetter and cooler,” said Houde, in a National Geographic report. “Las Cruces is now a desert.”