Boy, 10, Discovers 1-million-year-old Fossil in N.M. Desert

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July 21, 2017

A 10-year-old has discovered a fossil more than 1 million years old, by tripping over it.

Jude Sparks, who is 10 now but was 9 at the time, was hiking in the desert near Las Cruces, N.M., when he fell, his movement tripped up by what turned out to be the fossilized tusk of a stegomastodon, which last lived 1.2 million years ago. Jude and his family reported Jude's find to Peter Houde, a professor of biology at New Mexico State University. 

Houde and a team of professors and students dug up the tusk that Jude tripped over, along with a jaw and what turned out to be most of a skull. The painstaking excavation included careful brushwork and application of a chemical to harden the bones, so they wouldn't break apart. The team plans a full reconstruction, which could take many months. 

The jaw weighs about 120 pounds; the entire skull weighs about a ton.

Since the discovery, Jude has seen his story reported in many prominent media outlets, including the New York Times and the (U.K.) Sun, and on many online news sets. He was also interviewed by his local TV station. 

Jude has also increased what was already a strong interest and knowledge in paleontology. Houde and his team let Jude and his family observe some of the fossil reconstruction.

The stegomastodon was an ancestor of elephants and mammoths.

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