9-year-old literally trips over huge fossil


A 9-year-old boy who was out hiking with his family last November accidentally discovered a rare prehistoric stegomastodon skull in New Mexico's Las Cruces desert.

New Mexico State University biology professor Peter Houde poses for a photo with the tusk and mandible of a Stegomastodon in the Vertebrate Museum in Foster Hall.

Once it was uncovered, Houde estimated the jaw alone weighed about 120 pounds, while the entire skull weighed at least one ton.

Download the News Nation Mobile App and stay connected with top stories from India and around the world. When sediment is removed from these specimens, they "fall apart immediately and literally fall into tiny, tiny bits", Houde said in the statement.

"It was absolutely clear what it was and I knew exactly what species it was when I saw it", said Houde. Jude's find was only the second complete skull found in New Mexico and is thought to have possibly been exposed by heavy rainfall. "They are actually very, very fragile". After analyzing the fossil, a team of global researchers at New Mexico State University has identified the skull to belong to a Stegomastodon - an elephant-like extinct genus of gomphothere.

The team applied chemical hardeners to the fossil, mimicking the bone strength provided by protein, to keep it intact.

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Houde told Fox News that although exposure through the dirt did a little damage to a tusk, the fossil is in remarkably good shape.

As per a report in NYT, the professor has said that the remains are usually hard to find as they are very fragile and disintegrate after erosion exposes them.

After the skull was unearthed, the NMSU team carefully lifted it from the dig site by front-end loader and placed it on a flatbed truck for the trip back to the university. "The American mastodon, Mammut americanum, is a mammutid and in a different family group", Macphee told Live Science, adding that Stegomastodon fossils are rare.

While the process to study and reconstruct the skull, jaw and tusks will take years to complete, Houde says the stegomastodon fossil will eventually go on display.

Houde noted once that happens, "this little boy will be able to show his friends and even his own children, look what I found right here in Las Cruces".