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West Virginia Turkey Hunter Discovers Giant Sloth Skull That’s at Least 11,000 Years Old

Kevin Adkins was working a familiar creek bottom following a heavy rain when he came across an ancient skull
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Turkey hunter finds a sloth skull.
This West Virginia turkey hunter found an ancient sloth skull. Kevin Adkins

Kevin Adkins, 36, happened across the find of a lifetime while hunting with his father-in-law, Tony Hager, on Mother’s Day in West Virginia. Adkins found a giant sloth skull that turned out to be at least 11,000 years old.

“We were running and gunning for toms,” says Adkins, a resident of Red House in rural Putnam County. “We’d worked a gobbler for about 30 minutes, then the bird moved off, so we picked up and headed up the creek.”

Adkins hunted the area before and killed birds there previously. It was Adkins’ father-in-law’s first turkey hunt. The pair of hunters eased across a mountain stream, stepping around debris washed into the drain from a flash flood that hit the region just two days prior to their hunt.

“I looked down in the middle of the creek as we crossed it and saw a big blob of something I thought was a root ball, so I almost kicked it away,” says Adkins, an area utility worker. “But I noticed something different about it and looked closer. That’s when I saw some molar teeth, so I picked it up.”

The item was heavy, about 30 pounds, caked in mud, clay, and sand. Adkins cleaned it a little and saw some hair and a jawbone with more teeth. So, he set it beside the creek to claim later after hunting to take it home and give it a thorough inspection. The pair of turkey chasers went on with their hunt until about 10 a.m.

Ground sloths weighed more than 2,000 pounds. Kevin Adkins photo

They stopped to claim the skull Adkins found earlier, cleaning it in the creek. Then Adkins wrapped it in a jacket and slipped it into his hunting vest and they hiked out of the woods. When the hunters got home, they set the skull on a table and Adkins’ wife Elizabeth asked what it was.

“She thought it was a cow skull because it was so big,” Adkins says chuckling. “But my father-in-law said no, it was something very different. That’s when we started searching the internet, sending photos to family and friends, and then I posted it on social media. That really got things moving along with trying to ID what I’d found.”

The skull had four teeth on each side, all molars, no canine teeth. Adkins’ father George searched for information online and believed the skull was from a giant ground sloth, which have been discovered in that area of West Virginia.

They contacted the West Virginia Geological survey office in Morgantown. Various scientists, paleontologists, and university researchers led Adkins to Dr. Greg McDonald, who is widely known as “Dr. Sloth” for his expertise on the prehistoric animal.

“Dr. McDonald verified that the skull I found is a ground sloth,” says Adkins. “Scientifically it’s known as a ‘Megalonyx Jeffersoni’ and it lived from 5 million years ago up until 11,000 years ago. It weighed over 2,000 pounds and was up to 10 feet long.”

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Right now Adkins is storing the ice age era skull “in a safe place,” not sure what to do with his find. Carbon dating on the skull may be done, or it could be donated to a museum.

“I learned that ground sloths were discovered in nearly Monroe County in 1797,” says Adkins. “So many have been discovered in West Virginia over the years that ground sloths were named the ‘State Fossil’ in 2008. It’s a pretty cool find for a turkey hunter.”