Bachelor parties are famous for drunken debauchery involving semi-nude dancers, drinking games and frat boy antics, all designed to give the lucky groom-to-be one last shot at single life and all of its irresponsible thrills. The greater the thrills, the better the party, and they are easy to buy. No planned thrill, however, will top that felt by the bachelor party in New Mexico on Monday, during which the celebrating band of brothers stumbled upon the prehistoric skull of a stegomastodon that is estimated to be some three million years old.
To celebrate the upcoming nuptials of their friend, Antonia Gradillas and the group went camping and hiking in Elephant Butte Lake State Park, located approximately 150 miles away from Albuquerque, N.M. While navigating a beach that just two weeks ago had been covered in water, they spotted what seemed to be a bone protruding from the ground approximately one to two inches. The friends immediately began digging at the earth until they realized that they were excavating a skull, and a large one at that. Gradillas, 33, realized that what they had found could quite possibly be a major find, at which point he called his friend, who works at a museum. That friend pointed Gradillas toward a paleontologist at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science named Gary Morgan.
Gradillas forwarded photos he had snapped of the skull to Morgan, who was at the scene the next day with a crew of workers. According to Morgan, the stegomastodon was similar in appearance to modern-day elephants except for their more squat build. Morgan estimates that the stegomastodon uncovered by Gradillas and his friends was probably 9 feet tall and weighed over six tons. At the time of his death, the animal was likely around 50 years of age and made its home along the Rio Grande river alongside American camels, giant sloths and saber tooth tigers before their extinction some 10,000 years ago.
To date, only the skull of the animal has been found, leaving Morgan unable to determine the creature’s gender or its manner of death. Morgan’s crew have been digging in the area of the skull, which was discovered in an upside down condition, but have been unable to find any other bones. Morgan’s 20 years in the field do not prevent him from becoming excited when fossils such as this are found, especially when they are in good condition. According to Morgan, the skull unearthed on Tuesday could very well be one of the best stegomastodon skulls ever found in the U.S. due to the fact that teeth and tusks were found near the skull, which allowed Morgan to use the molars in order to determine the age of the fossil.
On Thursday, Morgan and his crew covered the fragile skull, estimated to weigh 500 – 1000 lbs. in protective layers of newsprint, burlap and plaster in preparation for it to be loaded onto a truck, which will deliver it to the Mew Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. They have asked the media to keep the exact location of the find private so as to preserve the scene for the collection of any other fossils that can be found there. The Museum will clean the specimen for further study and, hopefully, for it to be placed on display sometime in the future.
Museum officials praised the group of men for recognizing that they had found a valuable fossil and calling proper authorities without disturbing the skull. As for Gradillas, he says that the find was “the coolest thing ever….We were so lucky.” Hopefully, the bachelor party’s luck holds true for the marriage of Eric Pietryga and Janel Clark, who are to take their vows today.
By Jennifer Pfalz