HOBBS, N.M. – The discovery of what could be a complete mammoth skeleton in Lea County has local archeologists excited.
The New Mexico Natural History Museum Foundation will hold a special event at the Western Heritage Museum next week during which Executive Director Calvin Smith will announce the historic find.
"It is a major discovery," Smith told the Hobbs News-Sun. "We usually find pieces and parts, but if this is a complete skeleton, it is very important."
So far, amateur archaeologists have unearthed a femur, tibia, fibula and a carpal.
Smith helped excavate more than 20 mammoths at a dig site near Waco, Texas, and has found the remains of five mammoths in Lea County, but this could be the first complete skeleton.
"It is a significant find and one that deserves a lot of attention," he said. "If we are on the bottom of it, we are through, if we are on the top of it, we have another year's work."
How important it could be for Lea County is yet to be seen, but the potential is huge, Smith said.
"When I was at Baylor, I heard about the mammoths found out in (the Waco) ravine," he said. "There were five found. My first trip I found three more eroding out of the bank. We ended up with 23 mammoths and they are building a $4 million building over the site and it is being approved to become part of the National Parks system.
"I am not saying this is what will happen, but it is certainly a possibility."
The mammoth was discovered last year by Lea County resident Delbert Sanderson, who saw the femur bone fossil sticking up out of the middle of a two-track road in the desert.
Sanderson was visiting the area to explore a different archaeological find he first noticed as a teenager more than 50 years ago.
"There was this bone running all the way across the road," he said. "I dug at it with my pocket knife and pried a piece out."
Sanderson took the fossil fragment to Smith, who immediately knew what he was seeing.
The announcement of the find was delayed for several reasons, one being worries about thieves. Another was getting permission to keep the fossils in Lea County from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History, which has authority over all fossil finds in the state.
Smith petitioned the museum for permission to keep the bones local for an exhibit at the Western Heritage Museum and was granted a loan of fossils previously found in the area that are currently in the state museum's collection.
Smith will be using the fossils to create an exhibit on the Guadalupe Reef, as many of the fossils are of extinct sea animals that lived in a small sea covering what is now southeast New Mexico.
Other mammoth fossils found in Lea County include pieces of a skeleton found south of Jal in the 1940s or 1950s and a piece of tusk found during excavations for building foundations at the Urenco USA site, Smith said.
There are rumors an intact skull has been found in Lea County and, if true, Smith believes the find could be one of the greatest for the area.
"I would like to know more if someone does know of a significant find like that," he said.