By Joseph Kolb
ALBUQUERQUE (Reuters) - A group of men attending a bachelor party stumbled across a rare fossil of a mastodon skull, complete with its tusks, in sand at a lakeshore in a New Mexico state park, a museum spokesman said on Thursday.
Randall Gann of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science said the partygoers discovered the fossil earlier this week in Elephant Butte State Park, an area of arid hills surrounding a reservoir about 155 miles (250 km) south of Albuquerque.
He said the museum's head paleontologist was amazed by the find, calling it "the most complete mastodon skull with attached tusks he has seen in 20 years."
Mastodons were Ice Age relatives of the elephant that stood 10 feet (3 meters) tall and migrated to North America some 15 million years ago. They ranged across the continent with saber tooth tigers, giant sloths and American camels, before becoming extinct about 10,000 years ago.
The revelers who made the discovery first contacted a professor at the University of New Mexico, who then put them in touch with the museum's head paleontologist Gary Morgan.
Gann said scientists from the museum planned to act quickly.
"Because it is in sand and not buried in rock, Dr. Morgan feels he can excavate the skull, cast it, and remove it today," the spokesman said.Shannon Parill, an employee of Elephant Butte State Park, said it was surprising the fossil was found in such a popular area, which attracts thousands of outdoor enthusiasts every year with its boating, hiking, fishing and camping opportunities.
Beth Wojahn, spokeswoman for New Mexico's Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, praised the group involved.
"What is noteworthy is the men who found the skull did not disturb it and called the right people," Wojahn said.
(Editing by Daniel Wallis and Will Dunham)