Boys Discover Ancient Mastodon Jawbone With Teeth Intact In Their Backyard

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Alejandra Gonzalez, a restorer for the National Museum of Paleontology, is pictured with a mastodon's jawbone discovered near San Salvador in 2001. More recently, a jawbone of the prehistoric creature was discovered in Mississippi by three young boys. Daniel LeClaire/Getty Images

Three boys stumbled across an unusual finding on their family's Mississippi property: a piece of mastodon jawbone.

While on spring break, the boys were walking around their yard when they noticed the large item, which they didn't immediately recognize.

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"I just saw it in the dirt," Caid Sellers told The Vicksburg Post. "I thought it was a log, then I turned it over and saw the teeth. It was heavy. I tried to lift it. We all [he, Shawn and Michael] tried to lift it."

After the boys showed the "dinosaur bone" to Lynett Welch, who is Shawn and Caid's mother and Michael's aunt, she called the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science to notify them about the finding. Welch's husband brought the bones to the museum to be examined, where experts confirmed that they're the lower jaw of a mastodon.

Mastodons, which are prehistoric relatives of elephants, roamed the Earth from 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. One of their distinguishing features are their large teeth — although smaller than true elephants — used for grinding up leaves.

Whoa! Three young boys unearthed a prehistoric mastodon jaw in Mississippi:

— FoxNashville (@FOXNashville) March 28, 2018

The colossal creatures have 24 teeth over their lifetime, but typically only use up to theree at a time, George Phillips, Curator of Paleontology at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, who examined the boy's findings said, according to The Vicksburg Post. The teeth shift during the animal's lifetime. They first grow in the back of the mouth then are pushed forward until they fall out.

"They actually cleave off over time; the tooth is gradually eroding and breaking apart and shed out the front," Phillips explained.

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Although the finding may seem rare, Phillips has actually examined two other mastodon fossils this month alone, both of which were found in the Mississippi River. Still, he called the boys' discovery "very extraordinary."

It's unclear exactly why mastodons disappeared from North America — some experts point to human hunting, while others argue that climate and environmental changes are to blame.