A local Californian, a regular visitor to the Rio Del Mar Beach in North Carolina, was recently featured in the news. Luckily, it wasn’t over any criminal allegations. On the contrary, Jennifer Schuh made an outstanding discovery on the beach without even realizing it.
On that fateful afternoon at the beach, Schuh and her husband had gone for a walk in nature. Mr. Schuh decided to retire briefly from the walk while his wife continued strutting by the shifting sea line. Suddenly, she happened upon an object that stood out in contrast to the cream-colored beach sand.
In a description she later provided to an advisor at the local history museum, Schuh said ‘the object looked like a piece of old firewood.’ However, she could tell it was no ordinary piece of wood. After assaying the strange object for a while, Mrs. Schuh called the attention of her husband, who equally acknowledged it as a strange find. Mr. Schuh asked what she intended to do with the find, and she said nothing. So, she simply took a picture of the object, and they left it at the beach.
It was after returning to their apartment that Jennifer Schuh posted the pictures on her Facebook profile. Before long, the power of the Internet and social media was unleashed. Users of the social media platform started passing various opinions about the identity and source of the object posted by Mrs. Schuh. Not long after, someone mentioned Wayne Thompson—a paleontology advisor at the Santa Cruz National History Museum—on the Facebook post.
With his wealth of experience with life forms buried and preserved in rock formations, Thompson instantly identified the object as the tooth of a mastodon. Mastodons are animals from the Ice-Age era, that the uninitiated commonly mistake as similar to the mammoth. However, Paleontologists have clarified that mastodons are a bit smaller than mammoths but way bigger than the elephants that still roam the earth.
Right after seeing the pictures posted by Schuh, Thompson reached out to find out if she was still in possession of the artifact. Unfortunately, Mrs. Schuh informed the paleontology advisor that she was not in possession of the mastodon tooth. However, Schuh disclosed the location of the discovery, and the local history museum launched an immediate hunt for the artifact.
They scoured the North Carolinian beach with little luck. Some members of the search party proffered the possibility of the tooth having been swept off by the waves. However, Thompson pointed out the fact that tides have been low around that period and that there was a higher likelihood of someone having found and nabbed the artifact. He was even more convinced that someone else picked the tooth after they identified the point where Schuh initially found it. The point was too high up on the beach for the waves to have reached.
Finding the remains of an animal that has been extinct since the earth’s Ice Age did not come as a surprise to Thompson. In 1980, a 16-year-old boy discovered the skull of a young mastodon on that same beach. The skull is presently on display at the local history museum. In fact, Wayne Thompson stated that mastodons were recorded to have lived in Santa Cruz County, where the artifacts were found.
After receiving news of the mastodon tooth, almost 40 years after a mastodon skull was discovered, Thompson is convinced that the Aptos Creek of the Rio Del Mar beach was a choice location for the extinct animals.
Interestingly, the mastodon tooth turned up over the weekend of the search team scouring the beach. It turns out that a local whose jogging route passed through Aptos Creek found the tooth. Like Schuh, the jogger wasn’t sure of what the object was or its symbolism, but he picked it nonetheless. Luckily, this individual learned about the search for this mysterious object and realized the description and picture matched his find. So, he nicely turned the mastodon tooth to Wayne Thompson and the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. He must have rationalized that the tooth would do more good to paleontologists and the museum than just being a collection item on his home shelf.