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Boy trips and finds million-year-old fossil in New Mexico desert
August 23 2017, 11:13 | Guillermo Bowen
Boy trips over 1 million-year-old fossil, making rare discovery
When Sparks fell to the ground, he came face to face with a unusual looking jaw bone and tusk. "I looked farther up, and there was another tusk", said Jude who was out with his family testing his new walkie-talkie set.
He first thought it was a cow skull, but when his parents saw the fossil, they suspected it was something more special.
Houde then secured funding, found volunteers and coordinated the digging.
Stegomastodons looked a lot like elephants and had extremely long tusks-up to more than 11 feet.
Houde was able to reveal to the family that the bones were in fact the one-tonne head of a stegomastodon, who walked on earth almost 1.2 million years ago. The youngest fossils found so far have been dated back to around 29,000 years ago.
Mammoth fossils are relatively common across the western portion of North America, but only a couple hundred Stegomastadons have been found throughout the world.
Some have described Jude's find as a dinosaur discovery, but it's not. Usually, paleontologists only get their hands on fragments of Stegomastodon fossils.
Peter Houde, of New Mexico State University, stands with the tusk from a Stegomastodon.
Jude Sparks was hiking the rugged New Mexico desert some five miles east of Las Cruces by the majestic Organ Mountains in November with his parents Kyle and Michelle and brothers, Hunter, 8, and Rhett, 5.
Houde obtained permission from the land owner to dig up the fossil, along with a team of student volunteers and the Sparks family.
Jude, now 10, told KVIA News that most of his friends still don't believe that he found a fossil more than a million years old.
He estimated the jaw to weigh around 120 pounds, and the entire skull as little as one ton.
"The upper part of the skull is deceiving", Houde said.
The discovery was rare because both the animal's mandible and a tusk were exposed to the surface, Houde said in a paper published on his website about Jude's discovery. "You can imagine an extremely large skull would be very heavy for the animal if it didn't have air inside it to lighten it up, just like our own sinuses".
During the weeklong extraction process, 10 to 12 people helped at different times with the excavation.
Houde and his team will continue studying and reconstructing the stegomastodon skull, and they expect to display it at NMSU's Vertebrate Museum in the future.