Stag party unearths 3m-year-old mastadon

Jun 16, 2014

Friends hiking in New Mexico uncover one of most complete stegomastodon skulls ever found

Daniel LeClaire/Getty Images

A significant prehistoric discovery has been made in New Mexico by an unlikely team: a group of friends on a stag night. 

The men unearthed the three-million-year-old fossilised skull of a stegomastodon, an ancestor of the modern-day elephant.

Hiking through Elephant Butte Lake State Park, near Albuquerque, earlier this month to celebrate a forthcoming wedding, the group spotted a bone sticking out of the sand on a freshwater beach. They began digging and unearthed the beautifully-preserved fossil.

The Daily Telegraph quotes Antonia Gradillas, 33, one of the group. "As we were walking we saw a bone sticking out about one or two inches from the ground," he said. "This is the coolest thing ever. Some people with PhDs in this field might not even have this kind of opportunity. We were so lucky."

The friends thought they might have found the skull of a woolly mammoth and sent photographs to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. In fact, they'd found something much older – woolly mammoths were still alive 6,000 years ago, but the fossil skull is three million years old.

Experts say the fossil is the most complete example of the prehistoric elephant ancestor ever found. It has been taken to the museum and will eventually go on display.

Palaeontologist Gary Morgan estimated that the mastadon uncovered by the stag party probably stood about 9ft tall, weighed more than six tons and was about 50 years old when it died.

"This is far and away the best one we've ever found," he said. "It was living, drinking, feeding alongside the ancient Rio Grande three million years ago."

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