Settled in mud and brackish water by a Texas hiking trail, the tooth could have stayed lost forever.
But something about it stuck out to Art Castillo, so he plucked it from the creek, he said in a Facebook post, sharing photos of his Sept. 15 discovery.
Several times a week, Castillo walks along the Cotton Belt Trail in Waco, looking at the ground as he goes, hoping to see something interesting, pocketing an arrowhead now and then, he told KCEN.
The tooth couldn’t hide from him.
At first glance, the ancient thing might look like nothing more than a rock, but the disguise is thin. The odd shape, and the patterns adorning it, seemed special to Castillo — and also familiar.
He had seen something just like it before in a museum, a tooth belonging to a mammoth, Castillo said in a post. A few others suggested the same theory.
To find out for certain, he brought the tooth with him to Waco Mammoth National Monument. Experts confirmed what he’d hoped.
He’d stumbled across a mammoth tooth, estimated to be anywhere between 25,000 and 50,000 years old, Castillo said.
An ancient relative of elephants, mammoths roamed the earth for millions of years before going extinct 4,000 to 10,000 years ago. Many groups of early humans depended heavily on mammoths for food and clothing, used their massive bones to construct shelters, and even fashioned their tusks into weapons.
It was long speculated that humans hunted mammoths to extinction, but more recent research suggests that the ending of the Ice Age, with rapid changes to climate and environment, were also devastating for the animals. Massive glacial melt destroyed large swaths of plant life, leaving too little for them to eat.
How the tooth’s owner met its end as long as 50,000 years ago is impossible to know. Was it killed by spear-wielding hunters? Did its hide keep them warm against the cold? Are its bones somewhere deep under the Texas soil?
The tooth raises questions and stirs the imagination.
Castillo decided to donate it to the Waco Mammoth National Monument “for kids and visitors to see for many years to come.”
Some told him he should sell it, but Castillo wasn’t interested.
“The happiness and joy this fossil will bring to visitors is more important to me than any dollar amount.”
This story was originally published September 21, 2022 5:20 PM.