One little boy quite literally stumbled upon a rare paleontological discovery while exploring the outdoors.
Jude Sparks, now 12, was out for a walk with his family in Las Cruces, New Mexico, in November 2016 when he tripped over what he first thought was a cow skull.
“It was just an odd shape,” Sparks told the New York Times at the time. “I just knew it was not something that you usually find.”
Sparks and his family took photographs to investigate further and eventually decided to send an email to Peter Houde, a biology professor at nearby New Mexico State University. The next day, Houde traveled out to see the remains for himself and recognized the find almost immediately.
Houde identified the bones as fossilized parts of a Stegomastodon, an elephant-like animal, dating back 1.2 million years.
The professor told the New York Times he often receives calls and emails about potential finds, but usually, they amount to nothing. This time, however, it was the real deal.
Sparks’ father, Kyle, told ABC News that his son was absolutely thrilled with the discovery.
“I imagined through my own mind of being 9 years old and finding something like that and how incredible it would be,” he said. “Like most kids, he had this really strong phase, maybe 5 or 6 years old, where he’d be reading every dinosaur and fossil book you can imagine. He’s ecstatic about it.”
After the university was granted permission by the owner of the land where the fossils were found, the ancient jaw and two pieces of tusk were transported to the Vertebrate Museum at NMSU. The remainder of the skull, which weighed approximately one ton, was dug out later that year.
Houde says he hopes that the skull will one day go on display.
“I have every hope and expectation that this specimen will ultimately end up on exhibit and this little boy will be able to show his friends and even his own children, look what I found right here in Las Cruces,” he said in a press release.
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