By Carolyn Lee
The Imperial Republican
About three years ago, an Imperial man was walking his dog and enjoying the day when he noticed a flat bone laying flat on the ground.
Poking around, he discovered that the exposed area was part of a larger bone and had big teeth attached.
Drew Maier got lucky. He had found a Stegomastodon jaw bone.
The story began around Christmas of 2011. Maier was returning from a job and stopped his truck a few miles north of Imperial at a gravel pit to let his dog, Jezzabell, out for a run.
The pit is on private land and Maier declined to identify the owner.
The temperature was freezing, and the gravel kept freezing and thawing, Maier said, allowing the walls of the pit to “roll and fall off. They spit this (fossil) up.”
A few days later Maier returned to the pit and discovered another jawbone.
When he dug the two jawbones up, Maier said, “I was pretty excited. I thought I had the golden ticket.”
He was dreaming of “fame and fortune. But as time went on I would rather have found an arrowhead.” It wasn’t exactly his idea of a claim to fame.
Using a small shovel and his hand, Maier removed the fossils from their bed. “That was probably a mistake because I was told they start to decay and fall apart” when removed from the ground.
Maier first took his find to his old teacher, Mike Kirwan of Imperial.
“I kind of knew it was out of the ordinary when he told his wife to clear off the table” to put the fossils down. Kirwan confirmed what Maier expected, that it was a fossil, Maier said.
The 36-year old left them on his dining room table for about six months, then carefully put them in a box.
After contacting a number of paleontological societies, Maier was directed to the University of Nebraska and its state museum.
Maier wanted his find confirmed, “so I could tell all my buddies.”
It wasn’t until this past May, however, that someone came out to view the fossils.
Highway Paleontologist Shane Tucker met with Maier and collected both halves of the lower jaw.
He confirmed that they were from a Stegomastodon, the last member of the Gomphothere (“four-tusker”) lineage in North America.
The Stegomastodon had a shortened lower jaw which allowed for the development of a trunk.
According to the state museum, “These nine-foot tall proboscideans had teeth with tall, blunt cusps covered in cementum to process leafy vegetation as well as grasses. Stegomastodons are the most common fossil elephant in the Nebraska rock record from one to five million years ago.
Maier’s discovery is the only Stegomastodon fossil found in Chase County.
“To touch it and think it’s that old is pretty darn amazing,” Maier commented.
He donated the jawbones to the state museum because “It didn’t benefit me and they would take care of it.”
But the thrilled feeling of discovery, several years later, remains with Maier. “Just to hold and see it, it’s nothing from this world,” he marveled.