SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KION-TV) Update June 2, 2023, at 12:19 p.m.- An Ice Age mastodon tooth was discovered on Tuesday after being found by a beachgoer on Friday and will now be put on display.
The tooth will now be on display at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History through the weekend.
- Friday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Free Day)
- Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Ice Age mastodon tooth recovered in Santa Cruz County, museum officials say
by: Amy Larson
SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KRON) — A mastodon mystery has been solved in Santa Cruz County. On Tuesday, a beach jogger turned in a giant mastodon tooth dating back to the Ice Ages, officials with the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History said.
The one-foot-long tooth first surfaced in the sand at Rio Del Mar beach near Aptos Creek on Friday. A curious beach-goer photographed the strange object, left it on the beach, and uploaded the photographs on Facebook asking what it was.
“I practically hit the floor. It was a mastodon tooth, right in the same area where we know mastodons lived in Santa Cruz County,” said Wayne Thompson, a paleontology collections advisor for the museum.
Paleontologists and volunteers spent the weekend digging through sand trying to re-locate the tooth. But an unknown person had already carried it home.
Thompson contacted KRON4 for help to get the word out about the missing tooth.
Thompson emphasized, “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. It’s a piece of Santa Cruz history.”
At some point during Memorial Day weekend, beach jogger Jim Smith found the tooth while he was running along Rio Del Mar beach, said Liz Broughton, Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History visitor experience manager. He took the strange object home without knowing it was from an extinct terrestrial Ice Age animal, Broughton said.
The jogger later saw KRON4’s news story and contacted the museum.
“I received a phone call this afternoon from a longtime Aptos resident. He found it while running along the beach. He saw your article. We are very excited. And he was very happy to donate it to our collection,” Broughton told KRON4 on Tuesday.
A juvenile Pacific mastodon’s skull was excavated in 1980 from Aptos Creek. It took Thompson two years to meticulously put the skull back together at the museum. The recently discovered tooth — which belonged to an adult mastodon — may provide the first evidence that a herd roamed Santa Cruz County during the last Ice Age, Thompson said.
The tooth is scientifically valuable for “painting a picture of what life in our region used to look like,” Broughton said. “Teeth in particular can provide a lot of information about the environment they were existing in. Every piece paints a picture.”
The tooth will now be studied and documented at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History before it goes on exhibit for the public to view. The museum is located above Seabright Beach at 1305 East Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz.