9 Year Old Boy Discovers A Rare Fossil In New Mexico Desert

Posted: Jul 22 2017, 12:53am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

9 Year Old Boy Discovers a Rare Fossil in New Mexican Desert
Jude Sparks sitting beside the fossilized remains of a Stegomastodon. Credit: Peter Houde

The fossil belongs to a 1.2 million year old elephant-like creature, stegomastodon

While walking through a desert in New Mexico, a 9-year-old boy stumbled on one of the rarest fossils in the region. He found the fossilized tusk of an elephant-like creature, called stegomastodon and the specimen lived at least 1.2 million years ago.

Jude Sparks was on a hike in desert near Las Cruces in November alongside his family when he tripped over something sticking out of the Earth. It felt like bones. Sparks thought he had found bones of a big rotten cow, but it turned out to be much more.

“I was running farther up, and I tripped on part of the tusk," Sparks, now 10, said in a statement. "My face landed next to the bottom jaw. I looked farther up, and there was another tusk."

The family contacted New Mexico State University professor Peter Houde upon reaching home. But it was not until May that Houde and his team started excavating the site and dig up the whole fossil. The fossil was later identified as a prehistoric stegomastodon skull.

“A stegomastodon would look to any of us like an elephant," said Houde. "For the several types of elephants that we have in the area, this is probably one of the more common of them. But they're still very rare. This may be only the second complete skull found in New Mexico."

The other stegomastodon skull was discovered in 2014. It was 3 million year old and recovered by a bachelor party. But the recent one is most complete sample of stegomastodon skull which is otherwise recovered in bits and pieces.

“They simply break into small bits as they weather out of the sediment before they are found. 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.

The fossil comprises of skull and jaw bone. The jaw is about 120 lbs while the entire skull weighs about a ton. After unearthing, the team had to apply chemical on the fossil. It was necessary for preserving the skull.

“As we were brushing away the fossil, as soon as we removed the sediment, we needed to put a type of hardener on there to preserve the structural integrity," said Danielle Peltier, a geology student at NMSU. "Otherwise, it would just crumble after a few days being left in the sun.”

The skull will be extensively studied before going on a display at museum.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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