Sometimes, there are benefits to being clumsy – so discovered 9-year-old Jude Sparks on a recent hike in New Mexico’s Organ Mountains. On a trip with his family, Sparks tripped over an object which he first thought was “just a big fat rotten cow.” Instead, it turned out to be a Stegomastodon fossil from 1.2 million years ago.
The young boy told KVIA TV, “I didn’t know what it was. I just knew it wasn’t usual.” His family agreed, which is why they contacted Peter Houde, a professor at New Mexico State University, and returned to the site the next day. Sure enough, what Sparks had tripped over was a fossilized tusk belonging to an ancient Stegomastodon.
According to The New York Times, the ancient mammal was a cousin to the wooly mammoth and modern-day elephants. Not only are the remains large, they are quite rare, considering prehistoric bones tend to disintegrate quickly after being exposed to the elements. “This is really very unusual to find,” said Houde.
Elated to have made the find, the family set up a fundraiser for a formal dig. It took months to organize a team and secure a permit, but earlier this May, an entire skull made of delicate “egg-shell thin” pieces was discovered. Houde hopes to display the remains at the university. “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,” he said. “It really has to be done with great care and know-how.
Jude — now 10-years-old — says he isn’t as interested in fossils as he used to be but likes the attention that comes with discovering the fossilized remains of a mammal which is slightly smaller than the average African elephant.
Believe it or not, this isn’t the first Stegomastadon that’s been “accidentally” discovered. A hiking bachelor party found a 3-million-year-old skull in 2010 while hiking in New Mexico’s Butte Lake State Park.
Images via Peter Houde