10-year-old helped discover million-year-old fossil

By Daniel Uria  |  July 20, 2017 at 11:26 AM
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July 20 (UPI) -- A 10-year-old boy contributed to a paleontological discovery after tripping over a million-year-old fossil in New Mexico.

Jude Sparks was just 9 years old when he stumbled upon the stegomastodon fossil while hiking in the dessert with his parents and brothers in November.

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

Sparks and his family took a photo of the mysterious fossil, as they attempted to determine what exactly they had found.

"When we went home, we were trying to research," the boy's mother Michelle Sparks told the New York Times. "It didn't match perfectly with elephants, so then we said, ok, I guess it was something else."

The family eventually contacted NMSU biology professor Peter Houde who said the family had made a rare discovery.

"For the several types of elephants that we have in the area, this is probably one of the more common of them," Houde said. "But they're still very rare. This may be only the second complete skull found in New Mexico."

The family joined Houde and a team of students and professors as they worked to uncover the skull after getting permission to excavate the area.

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

Houde was thankful that Sparks and his family contacted him instead of trying to remove the fossil themselves.

"As you can imagine, when people find out about these things, they might be tempted to go out there and see what they might find themselves and tear up the land or they might hurt themselves," he said. "To be quite honest, all these fossils from this area are radioactive and especially for children, not something you would want in your home."

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