A 3-million-year-old prehistoric treasure found at Elephant Butte Lake
POSTED: Thursday, June 12, 2014 - 7:59pm
UPDATED: Friday, June 13, 2014 - 11:43am
Elephant Butte, NM (KTSM) — More than 100 miles away from El Paso, smack dab in the middle of a New Mexican desert, lies a great big body of water, sandy beaches, and miles of trails.
Elephant Butte Lake is a place where friends and families come to play, and children spend their summer days.
But therein lies a treasure so valuable, so rare, and so ancient, it's like striking gold.
"They discovered an ancient mastodon, fossil mastodon that is an elephant relative," said Gary Morgan, a paleontologist with the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. "We're looking at something that's 3 million years old here so it's a different kind of a mastodon, and the name 'stegomastodon' is the scientific name."
If it weren't for a group of friends celebrating a bachelor party at the Butte, the bones may have never been discovered.
Antonio Gradillas of Albuquerque, New Mexico and his pals were helping a man who got his truck stuck in the sand when much to their surprise, they stumbled upon the skull of the stegomastodon.
"As we're coming back down the shore, I see something in the ground," he said.
"I think it's pretty crazy considering when they built the dam, they never discovered anything like that so the fact that they dug it up now and that it was a bunch of kids out having fun, is pretty awesome. I think it's very cool," said local restaurant owner, James Pecherski.
Paleontologists say the bones have likely been under water for centuries - just now exposed as the lake dries up.
"It's very exciting because we do find fragments of fossils but something that complete makes it a very important scientific discovery," said Robert Stokes with the New Mexico State Parks.
Security now surrounds the site 24/7 and until the excavation is complete, the public is being kept away.
Once paleontologists unearth the fossil, it will take about 3 to 4 months to fully clean it. The piece will then be put on display in a New Mexico museum.
"To have a find like this is extraordinary. It's wonderful, especially because it's right in our backyard," said Angela Rael from Truth or Consequences.
Paleontologists now hope to find more prehistoric bones in the area, making the search all the more alluring.