A 9-year-old boy in Michigan has found something any professional paleontologist would give an eyetooth for -- appropriately, since what Philip Stoll stumbled across was nothing less than a tooth from a prehistoric mastodon.
The gigantic chopper belonged to one of the shaggy elephant-like creatures roaming North America around 10,000 years ago.
"I was walking down at the creek last summer. I felt something that I stepped on so I picked it up and everybody in the neighborhood thought it was pretty cool," Philip Stoll told CNN.
Stoll and his family did a Google search for "large toothed object," and were eventually connected to James Harding, a herpetologist at Michigan State University who looked at images of the object the Stolls emailed him and confirmed its identity.
"It is a great reminder of what used to roam the country," Harding said. "It most likely got stuck in a swampy area and drowned."
Mastodons and their cousins, wooly mammoths, resembled modern-day elephants with their curved tusks and trunks, but unlike elephants they were covered in shaggy fur.
Mastodons were more compact than mammoths, more muscular with shorter legs, experts say.
Stoll, dubbed Huckleberry Phil by friends and neighbors because of his penchant for barefoot explorations of the creek behind his Windsor Township home, said he found the tooth when he stepped on it.
"It felt weird," he said. "I had to see what it was. I pulled it out and brought it to my mom."
Heidi Stoll was working on the home computer when her son brought her his find, and thought at first it was just a misshapen rock.
"I didn't even think that it could have been a tooth until I started checking online for some kind of match," she said. "We saw a picture of a mastodon tooth and said 'there it is.' "
Harding said the tooth, around 8 inches long and brown with six peaks, was likely exposed through erosion of the creek's banks, and more parts of the creature could still be buried underground.
Mastodon fossils turn up in Michigan every three or four years, he said.
As for Philip, he says he's always thought about being a paleontologist, and now he's surer of it than ever.