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Fossil gives special meaning to Elephant Butte

Elephant Butte Lake State Park is named for an island in the reservoir that resembles the shape of an elephant, but this week, the park’s name took on special meaning.

On Monday, campers came across what appears to be the tusk and skull of an ancient elephant, or stegomastodon.

State Parks spokeswoman Beth Wojahn said Tuesday that the location of the fossil find was not being made public to ensure “the integrity of the site.”

Paleontologists from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science were working with officials from the State Parks and the Bureau of Reclamation to protect, analyze, confirm the type and age of the fossil skull, and finally excavate it, she said. It was not clear how long that might take.

“Fossil fragments of the same type have previously been found in Elephant Butte Lake State Park, but nothing this complete,” Wojahn said. “This appears to be a major find.”

State Parks archeologist Robert Stokes said he was pleased that the campers properly reported the find to authorities. “State and federal law prohibits the removal of archeological, paleontological and botanical specimens” from the park, he noted.

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