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A 12,000-Year-Old Mastodon Tooth Discovered in Michigan by a Six-Year-Old Boy

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According to a local paleontology museum collection manager, the youngster is likely the first person to touch the tooth in thousands of years.

Julian Gagnon, six, discovered a valuable keepsake while trekking with his family through the Dinosaur Hill Nature Preserve in Rochester Hills on Labor Day. While wading along a brook, the youngster felt something underneath and reached down to pull a 12,000-year-old fossilized tooth of a juvenile mastodon from the dirt.

“Wow! I discovered a dragon's tooth!” Julian yelled.

Julian's father, Brian Gagnon, initially disregarded the find as just another object they'd have to haul home, pushing his son to toss it back into the water. Fortunately, the boy's mother, Mary, had a different opinion.

Given the name of the park where it was discovered, the family assumed they had a dinosaur tooth on their hands. The specimen's actuality turned out to be far more fascinating.

When the family got home, they did some research on the "dragon's tooth" and discovered that it resembled a mastodon tooth. When they contacted the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology, it was verified that they had something quite unusual on their hands, albeit not nearly as uncommon as one might think.

“Mammoth and mastodon fossils are very rare in Michigan, but compared to other areas in the United States, there have been more occurrences,” said Adam Rountrey, research museum collection manager at the paleontology museum.

The mastodon sometimes referred to as the state's fossil is displayed in a popular exhibit at the museum. However, just because they are common does not mean those uncovered relics aren't in great demand.

Although not financially lucrative, at least not to the extent that Julian had anticipated, a find like this one is invaluable when it comes to researching extinctions.

“At first, I believed I'd get money,” Julian told ABC 30. “I was going to win a million dollars. So humiliating right now.”

“These items are really useful in the long run for study into how the animals lived,” Rountrey added. Julian is possibly the first person to touch these archaic teeth in 12,000 years when the elephant-like species became extinct.

Rountrey noted to the crown's "tall bumps" that created "small sort of mountains on the teeth," indicating that the tooth belonged to a mastodon. Julian was overjoyed when he heard the news and proposed renaming the preserve Mastodon Hill.

“The beautiful thing about nature is you never know what you're going to find, and even if you're an expert, it doesn't guarantee you'll be the one to find things,” said Amanda Felk, programme director of Dinosaur Hill Nature Preserve.

The tooth was discovered to be the top right molar of a juvenile mastodon.

"Its crown is around the size of my hand, so it's in between baseball and softball size," he explained. "In Michigan, there aren't many possibilities for what animal that may be." We had both mammoths and mastodons here at the same period, but mammoth teeth are unique and distinct."

While Julian's discovery was unintentional, Rountrey stated that many paleontologists stumble across their discoveries as well.

"I'm envious because discovering fossils is something I wish I could do every day," said Abby Drake, a docent at the University of Michigan's Museum of Natural History. "It's difficult to be kept as a fossil. When an animal dies, it is usually scavenged.”

Julian decided to donate the tooth to the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology in return for a behind-the-scenes tour.

"He was also very, very keen that he be acknowledged as the discoverer of the mastodon teeth," Mary Gagnon recalled. “It was essential to him that I tell the paleontologists about it. This has further increased his interest in archaeology and paleontology."

“As far as he is concerned, this is his first discovery of his career, and it is now difficult to stop him from picking up whatever he sees in the natural world,” Mary says.

“I really wanted to be an archaeologist, but I think that was a hint that I should be a paleontologist,” Julian explained.

While authorities at the park advise visitors not to deviate from approved routes, the mastodon tooth has received nothing but positive attention. The museum had hoped to find additional finds like it, but none have emerged from the region thus yet.