via Peter Houde/nmsu.eduFamily vacations can take a lot of twists and turns along the way. You might get lost, you might mix up your hotel reservations, or you might have some larger, Griswold family-level problems. But even the most peculiar vacation stories can’t quite hold a candle to this one: a nine-year old boy discovered a million-year-old fossil while on a hike with his family.
Jude Sparks was on a hike in the Organ Mountains when he lost his footing—something was sticking out of the path. He pointed the object out to his brother, who thought it was something a bit less exotic.
“Hunter said it was just a big fat rotten cow. I didn’t know what it was. I just knew it wasn’t usual,” said Sparks.
After the stumbling events of the day, Jude’s parents got in touch with Peter Houde, a Professor of Biology at Mexico State University. After a bit of research and some resource gathering, the Sparks family, Houde, and a handful of volunteers returned to the site to begin excavation.
The dig revealed that the “big fat rotten cow” was actually a 1.2 million-year-old Stegomastodon, an early ancestor of the modern elephant. The incredibly frail fossil was turned over to National Geographic, and it is currently unclear if/when the specimen will be made available for exhibit.
This isn’t the first time New Mexico has served as the setting for a chance fossil discovery; back in 2014 a bachelor party found the fossilized remains of another mastodon in Elephant Butte Lake State Park, just 80 miles north of where Jude would find his.