Research being done on 1 million year old fossil found in Las Cruces

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KRQE)- Breakthrough research is underway on a 1 million-year-old fossil found in New Mexico. What makes this story even more interesting is the 10-year-old local boy who made the rare discovery.

This one-ton stegomastodon skull is being kept on the New Mexico State University campus at the Vertebrate Museum. It may look familiar to you because scientists say this is the ancestor to the modern day elephants.
Researchers are using this massive head to learn more about the prehistoric creature.

“We have the unique opportunity to really compare what the animal looks like a much larger complete scale and compare it with others,” said Professor Peter Houde.

Professor Houde says it’s rare to find a nearly complete skull of a mammal dating back to the ice-age. He says most fall apart into tiny fragments by the time they are found.

It was found in Las Cruces, New Mexico right on the outskirts of Jude Sparks’ neighborhood.

The curious 10-year-old boy literally fell into the discovery.

“I had no idea what it was,” said Sparks.

Jude says he tripped over the tusk back in November. Instead of trying to dig it out themselves, the Sparks family called Professor Houde after seeing that he had made a similar fossil discovery a few years ago.

“It was absolutely clear what it was and I knew exactly what species it was when I saw it,” said Houde.

That now makes two fossils from what could be the same type of animal, which is adding another piece to this massive puzzle.

“It seems more obvious right now that these two are much more closely related to one another than people had previously appreciated or possibly saw,” said Houde.

The skull that Professor Houde found was found 10 miles south of campus. He believes there are more out there.

Student volunteers, the Sparks family and the professor all pitched in and dug the fossil out by hand and with some heavy machinery to preserve it.

Student Danielle Peltier was involved in the excavation of the fossil. She described it as an amazing opportunity as it was her first time working with an animal of this size. Peltier assisted Houde in the preservation of the fossil by using a chemical sealer to protect the fossil from the sun. She also helped out by using burlap and plaster to cover the fossil.

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