Relative of Mastadon Found in Tennessee

(Jul. 4) -- Jim Leyden was waiting for word on the installation of his new backyard pool when he received a startling phone call.

"My wife called and said, 'You're not going to believe it... They found a dinosaur," Leyden told Memphis' WMC-TV.


In fact, while digging 8 feet beneath Leyden's Brighton, Tenn., backyard on June 30, contractors discovered the bones of a prehistoric mammal, possibly a trilophodon, part of the mastodon family. Mastodons are extinct relatives of today's elephants.

Leyden said he was shocked to learn that fossils, which one expert says could be anywhere from 30,000 years old to 2 million years old, were buried on his property.

"I grew up in New Jersey. I might find a body, but not a prehistoric animal," Leyden told the Commercial Appeal.

David Mason of Affordable Pool Contractors unearthed the jawbone while installing a drain line for the Leydens' new pool.

"I dug into the dirt and something cracked," Mason told WMC. He didn't know it at the time, but he had hit "a little piece of tooth."

Roy Young, conservator at Memphis Pink Palace Museum, later excavated the bones of the ancient beast, finding a large tooth still attached on the right side of the wishbone-shaped fossil. Another tooth had cracked off during the digging for the pool.

Getty Images / Dorling Kindersley
An illustration shows a trilophodon, an extinct relative of the modern elephant.

Young believes the jawbone is from a trilophodon, which would mark the first time the animal was discovered in the mid-South.

"Over the years I've seen many a mastodon tooth and bits and pieces, but I've never seen this guy before," Young told the Commercial Appeal. "He's an odd-looking fella."

Young estimated that the bones belonged to an adult who stood up to 8 feet tall and weighed as much as two tons.

Leyden said he planned to donate the fossils to the Pink Palace Museum.

"What am I going to do with it?" he wondered to WMC. "If I keep it around, my wife might throw it at me."

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