Ancient mastodon tooth found on California beach, donated to museum
A social media callout helps in re-discovering the fossil after it went missing following its first sighting.
On Memorial Day weekend, a woman discovered something that was poking out of the sand on a California beach: a tooth from an ancient mastodon.
But after that, the fossil disappeared, and it took a media campaign and a generous jogger to find it again.
The foot-long (30 cm) tooth was discovered by Jennifer Schuh on Friday at the entrance of Aptos Creek on Rio Del Mar state beach, which is off Monterey Bay in Santa Cruz County on the central coast of California.
"I was on one side of the creek and this lady was talking to me on the other side and she said what’s that at your feet?" Schuh recounted. "It looked kind of weird, like burnt almost."
Schuh was unsure of what she had discovered. She then took some pictures and posted them on Facebook while pleading for assistance.
Wayne Thompson, the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History's collection adviser for paleontology, provided the response.
Thompson discovered that the item was a worn molar from an adult Pacific mastodon, an extinct creature that resembled an elephant.
In his letter, Thompson asked Schuh to call him because of the importance of the discovery.
The tooth, however, was gone when they returned to the beach.
Weekend searching came up empty. Then, when Thompson posted an appeal on social media for assistance in locating the artifact, international news outlets covered the appeal.
Jim Smith from the nearby Aptos made a call to the museum on Tuesday.
The manager of visitor experience at the museum, Liz Broughton, exclaimed, "I was so thrilled to get that call." Jim claimed to have found it while out for one of his routine beach runs, but he wasn't sure of what he had found until he saw a picture of the tooth on the television.
The tooth was given by Smith to the museum, and it will be on exhibit there from Friday through Sunday.
It is unclear how old the tooth is. According to a museum blog, mastodons typically populated California between 5 million and 10,000 years ago.
In an email, Broughton stated that "we can safely say this specimen would be less than 1m years old, which is relatively 'new' by fossil standards."
According to Broughton, fossils are frequently uncovered in the area by winter storms, and they might have washed down to the coast from higher up.
The possibility that her discovery would help reveal long-buried mysteries about the serene beach area was exciting to Schuh. Although she didn't keep the tooth, she did order an imitation mastodon tooth necklace for herself on Amazon.
One does not often get to handle artifacts from the past, according to her.
It is only the third time that a mastodon fossil has been discovered in the area. The museum also houses a second tooth and a skull that were discovered by a teen in 1980. The same Aptos Creek where it was discovered empties into the ocean.
"We are thrilled about this exciting discovery and the implications it holds for our understanding of ancient life in our region," the museum’s executive director said in a statement.