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6-year-old discovers rare mastodon tooth, and donates it to University of Michigan museum

A blonde six year old boy stands in front of a colorful painting holding a brownish fossilized mastodon tooth
Courtesy of Mary Gagnon
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Julian Gagnon loves to pick up sticks and rocks while he's out on hikes with his family. In one recent trek in Rochester Hills, he found something a little more special: a fossilized mastodon tooth.

Lots of first graders dream of dinosaurs, mammoths, and other prehistoric creatures. Not many discover real ones. But 6-year-old Julian Gagnon did, stumbling on a rare 12,000 year old mastodon tooth while looking for interesting rocks and sticks on a family hike in Rochester Hills.

It was a bright spot in the water that initially caught his attention while walking near a creek at Dinosaur Hill Nature Preserve.

A brown-gray  fossilized mastodon tooth with two spikes at the bottom and three on top
Courtesy of Mary Gagnon
Julian donated the fossilized mastodon tooth he found to the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology, where scientists will be able to study it and, eventually, put it out for public view.

“I walked over there and I saw this cool rock, and I kind of picked it up and looked at it,” Gagnon said. “I didn’t know if it was a rock or if it was a dinosaur tooth.”

Julian’s parents, Mary and Brian Gagnon, were equally intrigued and perplexed by the find.

“It was very strange looking, and it was hard and not porous or anything,” said Mary. “My husband thought it was a tree root, and I was slightly horrified because I thought maybe it was like a fossilized deer hoof.”

The family agreed that Julian could take the large, grimy mystery object home as long as he carried it himself. He intended to add it to his rock collection until some internet reading on Michigan’s native prehistoric creatures, including mastodons, suggested how special this find might be.

Mary suggested to Julian that he could donate his discovery to science if they were right about what the giant tooth was. Julian already liked the idea of becoming an archaeologist when he grew up, and the thought of contacting professional paleontologists and giving the fossil to them sounded like a good idea. So, the Gagnons reached out to the Museum of Paleontology at the University of Michigan.

To give the university ownership of the verified fossil, “I signed my name like two times on a very special piece of paper with a very special pen,” said Julian.

As a thank you for his special discovery and donation, Julian enjoyed a look behind the scenes into the paleontologists’ labs on Saturday, plus a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum. He looks forward to seeing his discovery on display there, too, after it’s been thoroughly researched and properly preserved.

Elizabeth Harlow is an Assistant Producer for Stateside.
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