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Mastodon tooth found in Aptos on display at Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KION-TV) - A historical find along the Rio Del Mar State Beach has many people thinking about prehistoric life on the central coast. It all started with the discovery of a mastodon’s tooth. 

Historians were quick to put the mastodon tooth on display at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. It was found last week in Rio Del Mar, sparking curiosity of the history of the area from the people who live here, like Gina Moulder who lives in Aptos. 

“There's a local Facebook group called Aptosia,” Moulder said. “And somebody had posted Hey, I found this down on the beach. Anybody know what it is?” 

It turns out, it was a piece of history! The tooth of the mastodon was found laying at Rio Del Mar State Beach. After it was found, experts, like Wayne Thompson, got to work to discover its origin.

“The story is that in 1980, the skull that you see behind me here, was found in Aptos Creek and it's a specific Mastodon as well,” Thompson said. “We didn't recognize it as a Pacific mastodon and we just thought it was an American mastodon. And because we have a new specimen of a mastodon from the same area now we can have much more data behind our local Mastodon populations.” 

Wayne Thompson said that there is a specific reason scientifically why this tooth was most likely found recently. 

“We're just transitioning into El Nino conditions,” Thompson said. “Which means a lot more rain and so the recent storms that Santa Cruz has had really precipitated probably scouring of the creek and the excavation of the tooth. And so for both the reasons of climate change and the weathering of the creek bed, we probably excavated the tooth from the bay.” 

People like Kristin, at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, were excited to learn more about why the tooth was found now. 

“Getting you know all the information about the you know the having other pieces,” Kristin said. “And what was happening back then and the fact that climate change has something to do with this as well, that it's all linked.” 

The Pacific Mastodon tooth will be on display at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History until the end of this weekend. Then after, Thompson told KION that the collections team will be working with State Parks to develop a plan for its care, study, and future exhibition. 

Thompson also told KION that if you are ever on a nice walk on the beach and come across something that you might think is a paleontological artifact, to try to pick it up, if it does not require digging, and bring it to a museum or national park. Also to make sure to take a picture of the artifact if you can not pick it up. 

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Lindsey Selzer


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