A mastodon tooth was discovered in a Lansing, Mich., creek bed last summer. Nine-year-old Philip Stoll said he found the 10,000-year-old tooth while he was exploring. Herpetologist James Harding, with Michigan State University, verified that the tooth once belonged to a prehistoric elephant-like creature.
Often confused with mammoths, mastodons originated in Africa. Although the animals shared a similar appearance, there were notable differences in their habits and behavior.
Mastodons were solitary animals that often traveled alone. Research suggests mammoths usually traveled in packs. The mastodon also had a varied diet of grasses, small plants, and low-hanging branches. In contrast, the mammoth’s diet was limited to grass.
Researchers believe mastodons went extinct around 11,000 years ago — during the last ice age. Although the specific reason for their demise is unknown, researchers suspect a combination of climate change and a decrease in food sources.
Although 9-year-old Philip is known as the neighborhood explorer, he was stunned to discover the mastodon tooth. Affectionately known as “Huckleberry Phil,” the boy was walking through a creek bed when he stepped on the tooth.
Philip was unsure what the 8-inch object was. However, he recognized that it was unique. The boy took the mysterious item home and washed it in the kitchen sink. Philip’s mother, Heidi Stoll, said she eventually realized the object looked like a large tooth:
“I was holding it in my hands for a few minutes and then it gave me the creeps so I put it down on the desk… It looked like a tooth. It looked like there was something like gum tissue, a little bulgy thing around the top.”
Stoll said she found Professor Harding while searching for “large tooth object” online. After examining the object, Harding confirmed that it “is indeed a mastodon tooth.”
Philip said he was always interested in paleontology. However, his latest discovery only heightened his interest. In an interview with CNN, the 9-year-old boy said he is now considering paleontology as a career.
Following his unique discovery, Philip has become a local celebrity; the curious lad said “everyone in the neighborhood thought it was pretty cool.”
As reported by Shelby — Utica Patch, Philip Stoll is not the first child to find a mastodon bone in a Michigan creek bed. In 2012, Eric Stamatin and Andrew Gainariu, both age 11, found a mastodon vertebra in a Shelby Township creek.
The mastodon tooth and vertebra confirm researchers’ theory that mastodons roamed the Midwest United States between 10,000 and 14,000 years ago.