Beach Runner Stumbles Onto Invaluable Ancient Artifact

( – A man who regularly runs on the beach in Santa Cruz County, California, stumbled upon a rare artifact sought by scientists.

While running in the Aptos area, Jim Smith was captivated by something on the ground that “looked cool and interesting,” so he took it home, recounts Liz Broughton, visitor experience manager at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History.

Several days later, Smith was shocked to see the artifact he had discovered on TV, with the message that local paleontologists were looking for it, reported McClatchy News and The Sacramento Bee.

The beach runner had found the tooth of a mastodon, a prehistoric elephant from a barely known species.

Smith was unaware that several days earlier, on May 26, Wayne Thompson, a paleontologist with the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, had been alerted by a Facebook post about an intriguing find.

A local woman had taken a photo of the artifact she had come across near Aptos Creek on Rio Del Mar Beach and asked users what it was.

“I took a look at it, and I knew it was a mastodon tooth,” Thompson said.

However, the out-of-town woman hadn’t taken the tooth with her. The paleontologist went searching for it, but it was gone.

He thought somebody must have plucked the prehistoric elephant’s tooth off the beach.

“I had very, very little hope that it would ever be found again, but I did have hope,” Thompson said. He took to social media to ask that person to turn it in.

“We are currently ISO (in search of) anyone who might have recovered this tooth off the beach at the mouth of Aptos Creek at Rio del Mar. It is an extremely important specimen: the worn molar of an adult extinct Pacific Mastodon, Mammut pacificus,” the paleontologist wrote.

On May 30, Broughton got a phone call from Smith, who had seen the search message on TV. He brought the 10-inch tooth to the museum and donated it.

“When it was turned in, I was absolutely amazed,” Thompson said, adding the artifact was about 5,000 years old.

The only other Pacific Mastodon specimen was found in the same area in the 1980s.