In November 2016, Jude Sparks and his family were hiking in New Mexico's Las Cruces desert. Jude was testing out walkie-talkies with his brother when he tripped over something and fell.
That something turned out to be a 1.2 million-year-old stegomastodon skull.
"I was running farther up and I tripped on part of the tusk," said Jude in a statement released by New Mexico State University (NMSU). "My face landed next to the bottom jaw. I looked farther up and there was another tusk."
The Sparks reached out to NMSU biology professor Peter Houde about their discovery after they had seen Houde in YouTube videos about similar discoveries. For his part, Houde was pleased and impressed that the family reached out to him instead of attempting to dig up the bones on their own.
"As you can imagine, when people find out about these things, they might be tempted to go out there and see what they might find themselves and tear up the land or they might hurt themselves," Houde said in the same statement. "To be quite honest, all these fossils from this area are radioactive and especially for children, not something you would want in your home."
After the landowner granted permission to excavate the skull, the Sparks joined a team of professors and students in May to reclaim the skull from the ground. It weighed about a ton, and it will eventually be put on display.
"I have every hope and expectation that this specimen will ultimately end up on exhibit," said Houde, "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."