Prehistoric elephant skull pulled from New Mexico reservoir

Stegomastodon at Elephant Butte
Stegomastodon at Elephant Butte

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – An ancient discovery by a group of guys at a bachelor party now has scientists amazed at Elephant Butte State Park, uncovering an extremely rare fossil.

“Absolutely, I’m really excited,” said Gary Morgan, a paleontologist with the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.

It took three million years to find, but what’s now emerging from the sands of Elephant Butte is what paleontologists are calling awesome.

Photos: Fossil Found at Elephant Butte Lake

“Probably the most complete mastodon skull I’ve ever seen, it is, from New Mexico,” said Morgan.

Morgan is part of the team now uncovering the fossilized teeth, tusks and skull of a stegomastodon at Elephant Butte. It’s an enormous prehistoric elephant that weighed as much as 13,000 pounds and stood 9-feet tall.

“This mastodon was living drinking feeding alongside the ancient Rio Grande three-million years ago,” said Morgan.

A group of guys celebrating a bachelor party stumbled upon the fossil last weekend. The fossilized bones were recently washed clean by receding water along Elephant Butte’s beach.

Thursday, New Mexico State Parks and other volunteers started digging it out. What they found revealed that nearly every piece of the skull was still there.

“That’s a second molar, and a third molar,” said Morgan. “And then the structure of the tusks, what you see coming out front.”

So far, crews have only found a skull.

“As we’ve dug around we haven’t seen any other bones, so all the limb bones, the skeleton seem to be missing,” said Morgan.

But what is there could be one of the best preserved stegomastodon skulls in the U.S. according to Morgan.

“This is the most complete of any of them I’ve found including the younger mastodons and mammoths from the ice age, this is older than that,” said Morgan.

The skull was found sitting upside down. Crews spent Thursday covering it in protective plaster and preparing to haul it away where it will live at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science for the next several months.

By the end of the year, crews hope to finish the fine excavation of the skull. They will also weigh it, measure it and likely flip it right-side up. They will also publish a scientific paper about the skull.

New Mexico State Parks representatives say the skull could give some of the most detailed information of the prehistoric elephant ever recorded.

“The fact that this skull is so complete even the tusks is just very exciting because Gary and his team at the museum will be able to get so much information out of this single find,” said Robert Stokes, an archaeologist for New Mexico State Parks.

NM State Parks says the skull will eventually go on display at the Natural History and Science Museum in Albuquerque. Once Elephant Butte State Park gets a visitor center, crews hope the skull can move back to the park.

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