Crew finds prehistoric remains at missile range

August 8, 2014 • State News

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — Remains [auth] of a prehistoric elephant-like creature have been found in southern New Mexico.

White Sands Missile Range recently announced the discovery of a fossilized mastodon skeleton on the expansive military installation, the Las Cruces Sun-News reports (

Stan Berryman, an archaeologist at WSMR, says the mastodon was first found in January in the foothills of the San Andres Mountains to the west of U.S. 70. He says a 10-person crew was searching for remnants of early Native American cultures at the time.

“We were doing an archaeological survey along the shoreline of the old lake,” Berryman said. “Surprise, surprise — we found the mastodon.”

Officials said the team was led to the specimen via a trail of tooth fragments. A tusk was partially exposed, thanks to erosion.

“We suspect there’s a complete animal out there,” Berryman said.

A second team of experts in July carried out a five-day trip to the site to gather more information and stabilize it for a future excavation.

Preliminary information says the mastodon fossil, dubbed “Chompers,” may have lived around 30,000 years ago.

The most recent team who visited the White Sands Missile Range mastodon included experts from the Smithsonian, the University of New Mexico and some consultants with a private company, R. Christopher Goodwin and Associates.

Part of that visit entailed collecting some fossil samples for radio-carbon dating — a process that will help pinpoint a more-precise age of the specimen, Berryman said. Results could be back in about six weeks.

“We did recover the tooth and some tusk and some pieces of rib bones,” Berryman said.

After it’s unearthed, the mastodon is likely to be kept at White Sands Missile Range facilities, Berryman said.

A descendant of earlier elephant-like animals, the American Mastodon lived across all of North America during the Ice Age.

In early June, campers in a bachelor party at Elephant Butte Lake near Truth or Consequences discovered a nearly whole, fossilized skull of a stegomastodon. That extinct, elephant-like animal roamed a subtropical New Mexico. The fossils were estimated to be about 3 million years old.

It’s unrelated to the WSMR find.

Separately, a Socorro family in late June found a mammoth tusk on U.S. Bureau of Land Management acreage in that region.

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