Santa Cruz, CA

California Man Finds 5,000 Year Old 'Ice Age Mastodon Tooth' on Rio Del Mar Beach & Takes it Home. Museum Wants it.

Zack Love

A beach-goer "strolling through the sand" on Rio Del Mar Beach sees something that looks like firewood but leaves it on the beach after taking some photos of it. After a lot of comments on Facebook, a paleontologist collections advisor from the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History contacts the woman about this "Ice Age tooth." She returns to the beach to look for it, but it was gone because a runner found it later and took it home with him. The museum was searching for this tooth until the runner came forward.
beach (stock photo)Photo bySean OulashinonUnsplash

A California woman doesn't think much of something unusual that looks like firewood, but still snaps some photos and posts them on social media on 26 May 2023.

Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History Was Looking for the Tooth
Mastodon toothPhoto byJennifer Schuh

Wayne Thompson, a paleontologist collections advisor at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History saw the photo (above) and believed it was very likely a tooth from an adult Pacific Mastodon.

He contacted Jennifer Schuh, to see if she had the Mastodon tooth in her possession. She did not.

After she went back to the beach and found that it was gone, Wayne asked the public for help in finding this mastodon tooth to hopefully recover it so it can be studied further.

He said:

“She didn’t know what it was, the importance of it. It looks like a piece of old firewood. So she left it there. It’s understandable.”
“People said ‘woah that looks like a giant tooth.’ I practically hit the floor. It was a mastodon tooth, right in the same area where we know mastodons lived in Santa Cruz County,” -Wayne Thompson, paleontology collections advisor at Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History

He guessed that the tooth was so high up on the beach, that "someone took it thinking it was a piece of petrified wood."

He posted a picture of it on Instagram, seen below.

California Man Running on Beach Finds the Mastodon Tooth

KRON4 News reported that Jim Smith was running on the beach when he found the "1 foot-long tooth" and took it home.

He then saw the report on the news about the missing Mastodon tooth and called the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History on 30 May 2023. Jim Smith decided to donate the fossil to the museum.

Wayne Thompson is grateful that Jim Smith came forward with his discovery, saying "It’s a miracle it was returned." He believes it is 5,000 years old based on carbon dating.

He said:

“It’s super, super, super important for understanding elephant life in Santa Cruz County during the last Ice Age. There are only a few mammoth specimens, and mammoths are more common than mastodons. Aptos was a popular destination for Ice Age proboscideans,” he told KRON4.  “It’s a piece of Santa Cruz history.” -Wayne Thompson, paleontology collections advisor at Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History

The mastodon tooth was an incredible find on the beach, and the museum was happy to locate it.

Please share this article on social media so others can be informed about this amazing discovery.


@pacificpaleontology post on Instagram. 28 May 2023.

Larson, Amy. "Mastodon mystery in Santa Cruz County: Ice Age tooth vanishes from beach." KRON4 News. 29 May 2023.

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Zack writes about happenings in U.S. culture that impact people in local communities.

Huntsville, AL

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