A woman taking a stroll on a California beach over the Memorial Day weekend made a surprising discovery: a foot-long tooth from an ancient mastodon, an extinct elephant-like species that roamed the area millions of years ago.
Jennifer Schuh, who was visiting from Northern California, spotted the tooth sticking out of the sand at the mouth of Aptos Creek on Rio Del Mar State Beach in Santa Cruz County on May 26. She did not know what it was at first, but she took some photos and posted them on Facebook, hoping someone could identify it.
“It looked kind of weird, like burnt almost,” she said.
Her post caught the attention of Wayne Thompson, a paleontology collections adviser for the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. He recognized the object as a worn molar from an adult Pacific mastodon and contacted Schuh to tell her the significance of her find.
“This is an extremely important find,” he wrote.
But when they went back to the beach to retrieve the tooth, it was gone. A weekend search turned up nothing. Thompson then sent out a social media request for help in finding the artifact, which made international headlines.
On Tuesday, Jim Smith, a jogger from nearby Aptos, called the museum. He said he had stumbled upon the tooth during one of his regular runs along the beach, but he did not know what it was until he saw a picture of it on the news.
“I was so excited to get that call,” said Liz Broughton, the museum’s visitor experience manager.
Smith donated the tooth to the museum, where it will be on display this weekend. The museum said the tooth was an extremely important find and only the third locally recorded mastodon fossil.
The age of the tooth is not clear. A museum blog says mastodons generally roamed California from about 5 million to 10,000 years ago.
“We can safely say this specimen would be less than 1 million years old, which is relatively ‘new’ by fossil standards,” Broughton said in an email.
Broughton also said it was common for winter storms to uncover fossils in the region and that the tooth may have washed down to the ocean from higher up.
Schuh said she was thrilled that her find could help unlock ancient secrets about the peaceful beach area. She did not keep the tooth, but she ordered herself a replica mastodon tooth necklace online.
“You don’t often get to touch something from history,” she said.
– California woman finds foot-long ancient mastodon tooth on beach, The Guardian, Fri 2 Jun 2023
– A woman strolling on a California beach found a massive mastodon tooth — and then lost it, Insider, Jun 2, 2023
– Woman walking along California beach finds ancient, foot-long mastodon tooth, Fox News, Jun 2, 2023
– Ancient mastodon tooth found by jogger on California beach: \”So excited to get that call\”, MSN, Jun 1, 2023