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Six-year-old Julian Gagnon was rewarded for his discovery and donation of a rare mastodon tooth to the University of Michigan’s Museum of Paleontology, according to a Michigan Radio article published in October.

Gagnon, who discovered the tooth while taking a hike with his family in Rochester Hills, Mich., received a behind-the-scenes look at the University’s Ann Arbor Research Museums Center and the paleontologists’ labs as a thank you for his donation.

Gagnon first noticed the fossil when he walked near a creek at Dinosaur Hill Nature Preserve. Michigan Radio reported that Gagnon was initially interested in a bright spot in the water, and did not know what he had found.

“I walked over there and I saw this cool rock, and I kind of picked it up and looked at it,” Gagnon told Michigan Radio. “I didn’t know if it was a rock or if it was a dinosaur tooth.”

His family urged him to take it home, where they researched Michigan’s native prehistoric creatures and decided to contact the paleontologists at the University. Dr. Adam Rountrey, a Research Museum collection manager and 3D specialist at the Museum of Paleontology, told The Daily that after identifying the mastodon tooth from Gagnon’s email, the University sent a team of paleontologists to Dinosaur Hill to search for additional material with Gagnon and his family. 

Rountrey said he was impressed that Gagnon found the tooth under such difficult conditions.

“The water in the stream there, Paint Creek, I believe it’s called, it was fairly deep and running pretty quickly,” Rountrey said. “So it was hard to see the bottom when we were sort of searching around the area where he had found the tooth. I think he was really lucky to have found it under the water like that.”

Rountrey said they did not find any further signs of fossils during their search and that the Mastodon tooth is the first vertebrate fossil the museum has received from Dinosaur Hill. He said after Gagnon agreed to donate the tooth to the museum, they invited him to take a behind the scenes tour of the research museum center to see where the fossil collections are stored.

“So we gave him a tour here, he donated the tooth, and we’ve agreed to produce a 3D model of it,” Rountrey said. “And (we also produced) a couple of 3D prints to get back to Julian and for the Nature Preserve to have for their interpretive programs.”

Gagnon, who liked the idea of becoming an archeologist when he was older, told Michigan Radio about his experience giving the University ownership of a certified fossil.

“I signed my name like two times on a very special piece of paper with a very special pen,” Gagnon said.

LSA sophomore Oona Woodbury said she has grown more interested in paleontology since taking the Earth 103 mini-course called “Dinosaurs and Other Failures” and heard about the Mastodon tooth during class. She said she wishes she would have begun searching for fossils when she was younger and hopes that Gagnon’s story will inspire people to explore their geologic environments.

“I hope it makes people think about where our scientific knowledge comes from,” Woodbury said. “We do kind of, in paleontology at least, rely on things being donated to the public to be able to study them and to advance our scientific learning … And it’s so cool that this kid got this great experience, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg of this whole topic.”

Daily Staff Reporter Vanessa Kiefer can be reached at