American woman finds a mastodon tooth while walking on the beach: “It’s not every day that you can touch something of history” | outside

An American woman was walking on a California beach last weekend when she saw a strange object sticking out of the sand. At the mouth of a river she finds a tooth from a mastodon, an extinct elephant-like creature.

Jennifer Schuh wasn’t sure what to find when she came across the fossil. She replies, “It looked strange, almost burnt.” She took pictures of what she found and posted on Facebook asking for help.

The mystery has been solved by Wayne Thompson, paleontology consultant at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. Thompson said it was a worn-out molar from a large Pacific sea animal. “This is a very important discovery,” he wrote.

Mastodon teeth are about 30 cm long.
Mastodon teeth are about 30 cm long. ©AP

When they got back to the beach together, Xu found the fossil, which was 12 inches in diameter, but nowhere to be seen in the tooth. A search over the weekend turned up nothing. Thompson then turned to his social media followers asking for help in finding the artifact. This application made international news.

Lost, but found again

On Tuesday, the nearby Aptos Museum got a phone call from another lucky guy, Jim Smith, who had happened upon the tooth while walking along the beach. “He wasn’t sure what he’d found until he saw a picture on the news,” said Liz Broughton of the Aptos Museum. Smith decided to donate the tooth to the museum, where it will be on display from Friday to Sunday.

It’s not clear exactly how old the artifact is, but according to the museum, mastodons generally lived in California from about 5 million to 10,000 years ago. “We can actually say that this specimen is less than a million years old, and is relatively ‘new’ for a fossil,” Bruton explained.

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Shuh says she’s glad her discovery could help reveal ancient secrets about the quiet beach area. You can’t touch a bit of history every day.

Mastodon, is that a mammoth?

Mastodons and mammoths are very similar but different species. Mastodons were shorter, less stocky, and had shorter, straighter tusks, unlike the longer tusks of mammoths. Mastodons had molars that were specially adapted for eating woody foliage, while mammoths were grazers and so their molars were better equipped for eating grass.

Left: an illustration of a mastodon.  Right: Illustration of a mammoth.
Left: an illustration of a mastodon. Right: Illustration of a mammoth. © ThinkStock / Getty Images

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Denton Watson

"Friend of animals everywhere. Evil twitter fan. Pop culture evangelist. Introvert."

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