A 6-year-old Michigan boy was hiking with his family when he picked up what he thought was just a rock.
Upon further examination of the rock, the boy’s imagination started running wild, and he told his parents he found a “dragon tooth.”
It turns out he wasn’t that far off with his assessment of the rock. According to Detroit Local 4, what the boy found was actually a roughly 12,000-year-old mastodon tooth.
“I just felt something on my foot, and I grabbed it up, and it kind of looked like a tooth.
At first, I thought I was going to get money. I was gonna get a million dollars. So embarrassing right now…
I really wanted to be an archaeologist, but I think that was a sign that I’m going to be a paleontologist.”
It was a fitting find considering he was visiting the somewhat aptly named Dinosaur Hill Nature Preserve in Rochester, Michigan, when he made the rare discovery. Despite the name of the preserve, the area is actually not known for prehistoric artifacts. The park was initially just a pile of dirt from excavated basements in a nearby suburb, but it became a common play area for local kids who imaginatively dubbed the pile of dirt “dinosaur hill” due to its resemblance to a sleeping dinosaur.
Julian’s dad encourage him to throw the rock back in the creek, but his mom convinced him to take it home as a souvenir. Once back at the house, his family recognized that what they thought was just a rock really did look more like a tooth. An internet search confirmed that it was actually a mastodon tooth.
Mastodons resembled modern elephants or wooly mammoths, although mastodons were shorter, stockier, and had shorter and straighter tusks than mammoths. Mastodons also went extinct 10-11,000 years ago, while mammoths didn’t go extinct until roughly 4,000 years ago.
Julian’s family followed up with the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology, and the research team there confirmed that the rare discovery was indeed a mastodon tooth. Abby Drake, a guide at the museum, said that discovering a fossil like this is extraordinary.
“I’m a little jealous, personally, because finding fossils is something that I wish I could do every day. It’s hard to be preserved as a fossil. When an animal dies, most of the time, it is scavenged.”
Amanda Felk, a program director with the Nature Preserve, said this discovery perfectly exemplifies the goal of Dinosaur Hill’s mission to connect kids with nature, inspire a sense of wonder, and connect kids with the natural world.
“The great thing about nature is you never know what you’re going to find and that even if you are an expert, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to be the one to find things.”
Julian donated the tooth to the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology and will get a special behind-the-scenes tour as a thank you.
Paleontologists with the museum will conduct more research on the tooth to determine more details surrounding the artifact’s age, and plans are underway to put the tooth on display in the near future. Mastodons are the official state fossil of the state of Michigan.