BROWNWOOD, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Did mammoths once walk the Big Country? One Cooper High senior seems to think so!
19-year-old Jaxon Craig spends many weekends just south of Brownwood, searching for deer antlers and cow skulls on his grandparent’s ranchland. He cleans and paints them, turning what would be the end of animal, and brings it back to life.
This past Easter weekend, Craig found something lying underneath a small mesquite tree he’d never seen before. Careful not to be stuck by a prickly pear thorn, he reached down and picked up what he described as a “fossilized cow patty.”
An oblong object with a rigid texture on all sides and a flat base with a darker circle in the middle. Confused, Craig took the oddly-shaped rock and brought it home.
“I thought it was some prehistoric roly-poly with the ridges on top,” Craig said.
As he sat and looked at it more carefully, Craig said he thought he had found some sort of fossil. Not knowing exactly what it was, he brought it to school for his science teacher to examine.
His science teacher kept it over the weekend and determined what Craig had found was a juvenile columbian mammoth tooth.
GALLERY: Take a look at the fossilized tooth in 360 view
Columbian mammoths are distant cousins to the more well-known wooly mammoth. However, Columbian mammoths are better suited for the south’s heat, not covered in long, dense layers of hair.
Columbian mammoths grew to be close to 13 feet at the shoulder, weighing nearly 10 tons and having tusks grow close to 14 feet in length. They are considered one of the largest mammoth species to walk the earth.
Jaxon Craig sought further verification, sent the tooth to Baylor University, where their paleontologists also verified the columbian mammoth tooth. However, they added a unique piece of information.
Craig said the paleontologists described the juvenile tooth as a pre-molar, meaning the young mammoth was still growing out that tooth. He said researching the animal, mammoths shed their teeth six times in their lifetime, but this particular tooth was not naturally shed, making it much more rare.
That means when the animal eventually died, the tooth was still growing and attached to the mammoth- raising the chances of the rest of the mammoth’s skeleton could be on his grandparent’s property.
While he is set to graduate Memorial Day weekend, Craig said that after graduation, he will be searching for the remainder of the mammoth’s skeleton, a unique summer project for a 19-year-old.
“I’m probably just going to look by myself,” Craig said. “I marked it so I know roughly where it is.”
If he has no luck in his excavation project, he said he will reach out to local museums and colleges to see if they are interested in helping find the remainder of the animal.
“As much as I’d like to find it by myself,” Craig began with humility, “I’d hate for an entire juvenile mammoth skeleton to never been found or never be used for educational purpose.”
Craig said before he found the mammoth’s tooth, he knew nothing about columbian mammoths in the Big Country. Now, he said he wants to help educate others who are interested in the prehistoric beasts, which is why he would like to try and get the full skeleton in a museum if found.
While he digs around, Craig said he is debating on whether to donate the tooth to a museum or keep it for himself.
“Part of me wants to keep it because I found this at my ranch. Its so cool and has a lot of sentimental value to me,” Craig explained. “But then again, it’s not going to do near as much sitting in my room for me to watch, when it could be in a museum to teach other people and they would get more use out of it than me.”
Prior to Craig’s discovery, Bangs city workers discovered columbian mammoth fossils in 2005, as well.