Mastodon Tooth Turns Up Among Charity Items

Old valuables turn up at garage sales with welcome regularity, including some items that belong in art museums. Seldom, though, do old discards turn out to be more than 10,000 years old and interesting enough to be displayed in a scientific exhibit.

A mastodon tusk (left) and teeth. Photograph courtesy In The Image

Just such a find was made recently in Michigan, however, when a tooth of a mastodon (Mammut americanum)—and what appears to be part of a tusk—mysteriously turned up among donations to a religious charity.

ABC News reports that John Timmer, a warehouse employee with In The Image charity in Grand Rapids, discovered the peculiar artifacts in July while sorting through piles of donated household goods. He called the Grand Rapids Public Museum—to whom the charity ended up donating the tooth and the tusklike item.

MLive reports that the tooth—a third permanent molar broken into two parts—and the apparent tusk will be examined and cataloged, and then added to the museum’s educational collection. They will be loaned out to schools for use in the classroom. (Related: “Photos: Speared Mastodon Bone Hint at Earlier Americans.”)

State Fossil of Michigan

The tusk is hollowed out and may have been carved. Both pieces were lacquered and are estimated to be between 12,000 and 15,000 years old by collections curator Alex Forist.

The museum already has a number of mastodon pieces; remains of the massive mammal were designated the state fossil of Michigan in 2002. Mastodons were similar to woolly mammoths, having the same thick fur but different head shapes. They went extinct about 11,000 years ago. (Related: “Mastodons Driven to Extinction by Tuberculosis, Fossils Suggest.”)

Last year two sixth-graders from suburban Detroit found a mastodon bone in a stream.

Other Michigan mastodons include a skeleton on display at the University of Michigan’s Museum of Natural History.

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Liz Langley is the award-winning author of Crazy Little Thing: Why Love and Sex Drive Us Mad and has written for many publications including Salon, Details and the Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter @LizLangley and at