A treasure trove of 42 massive mastodon fossils was recently discovered in a Michigan backyard, making it the find of a lifetime for one Bellevue Township contractor.

Daniel LaPoint Jr. wasn't digging for bones back in November, so when he unearthed the skeleton of a 14,000-year-old Ice Age-era mastodon during a routine excavation in a neighbor's yard, needless to say he was surprised.

"Finding them was very, very cool," LaPoint told the Lansing State Journal. It really is a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

With help from his neighbor Eric Witzke, after four days LaPoint unearthed an astonishing total of 42 bones. Their collection includes several rib bones, leg, should and hip bones, as well as the base of a tusk and pieces of the animal's vertebrae. At first the pair believed the remains to be of a prehistoric dinosaur, but University of Michigan (U-M) paleontologist Daniel Fisher later confirmed that the fossils belonged to a 37-year-old male mastodon.

"Preliminary examination indicates that the animal may have been butchered by humans," Fisher said.

These now-extinct behemoths - weighing about five tons - were distant relatives of elephants, and roamed North America between 10,000 and 14,000 years ago. Though it appears that this newly-discovered mastodon was hunted by humans, recent research suggests that humans are not to blame for their disappearance. It may be that freezing temperatures led to their demise before we came along.

Regardless, this new find, adding to the 330 confirmed mastodon bones discovered in Michigan, can help to shed some more light on these long-gone beasts.

"The scientific value is really the new perspective, the new information, that specimens like these can bring," Fisher added.

The fossils were donated to the U-M Museum of Paleontology in Ann Arbor, where they will be further researched and put on display, but not before LaPoint and Witzke took a few pieces for themselves as a token to their remarkable discovery.

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