Woman steps on massive mastodon tooth at Rio Del Mar State Beach

Santa Cruz Museum recently added artefact to its collection — one of only 3 known specimens found in area, says paleontologist

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This image shows a mastodon tooth on Rio Del Mar State Beach near Santa Cruz. — Instagram/pacificpaleontology/File
This image shows a mastodon tooth on Rio Del Mar State Beach near Santa Cruz. — Instagram/pacificpaleontology/File

While walking along Rio Del Mar State Beach near Santa Cruz during the Memorial Day holiday, a woman found a foot-long tooth of a Pacific mastodon which existed between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago, reported Los Angeles Times.

Mastodons, which went extinct long ago, were elephant-like mammals that flourished worldwide from Miocene through Pleistocene times. They differ from mammoths in the form of the molar teeth.

The woman named Jennifer Schuh was unsure earlier what she had found and in order to identify the object, she uploaded its picture on Facebook and asked if someone could help her identify it.

"People from Aptos find all kinds of stuff washed up on that beach, like horse teeth or fossilised sand dollars," she said.

"And I was like, 'Well, shoot, I’m going to post this crazy thing because I have no idea what it is.'"

Wayne Thompson, who was mentioned in the comment section by someone said the object is a molar belonging to a Pacific mastodon, an elephant-like mammal that existed between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago, during the Ice Age.

"This is an extremely important find," Thompson, who is a paleontologist at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History wrote Schuh.

“Give me a call when you get a chance.”

The Santa Cruz Museum recently added the artefact to its collection — one of only three known specimens found in the area, Thompson noted.

"When this tooth was fossilised, sea levels were 300 feet lower than they are today. Elephants and mammoths could walk out to the Channel Islands," Thompson said.

Storms are known to uncover paleontological finds, but Thompson said this is the first time it’s happened in their region.

But acquiring the mastodon tooth was not easy. After he saw the Facebook post, Thompson raced to the beach Friday, but the tooth was gone.

"We were on pins and needles," he said.

Thompson went on Instagram to ask if anyone knew the tooth's whereabouts, and if they did, to call the museum. 

"It was like a social media news blitz, just putting everything out to try to find out who might have taken the tooth," Thompson said.

"We all have studied history, but the minute you see something from the past that you can actually hold in your hands — it gives me goosebumps now just thinking about it," Schuh said.

Thompson said the "Santa Cruz museum might install a temporary exhibit to display the molar, adding that "longer-term, staff are hoping to put together an exhibit about the extinct elephants that lived in the county."