On Monday, crane operator Brandon Valasik was working, as usual, at an excavation site for the future Transbay Terminal Center here in San Francisco when he unearthed something very unusual from 110 feet below the surface—a mammoth tooth.

“It looked too perfect to be a rock,” he told the Associated Press.

This is a great example of citizen science, says the Academy’s Peter Roopnarine, curator of Invertebrate Zoology and Geology.

Initial dating by the Transbay’s paleontology consultant put the fossil’s age at around 11,000 years old. The huge tooth—“about a foot in length and 8 inches tall,” according to The Bay Citizen—will be donated to the Academy.

The Academy has other mammoth teeth in its collection, including three specimens found in San Francisco. Other collections from that time period in California include a saber-tooth cat skeleton, bison and dire wolves.

Peter says if we’re able to put the recent find on display, it will be a great opportunity to tell the story of the recent fossil history of San Francisco.

The late Ice Age in California had a rich diversity of mammals—large saber-tooth cats, horses, wolves, bison and of course, mastadons and mammoths. Peter explains that the area was a series of lush valleys with open plains. The nearby ocean provided a very moderate climate—making this region a cooler version of today’s African savannah.

Peter says that it’s always difficult to reconstruct the past in modern, metropolitan areas, where fossils are moved or buried without a second thought. That’s what makes Brandon Valasik’s discovery such a treasure. And the fact that Valasik himself recognized it.

We’re not sure when we will receive the tooth here, but when it does arrive, our scientists will examine the specimen for more clues to the species and age. Stay tuned!

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