Settled in mud and brackish water by a Texas hiking trail, the tooth could have been lost forever.
But something about it stuck with Art Castillo, so he picked it from the streamhe 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, staring at the ground as he walked, hoping to see something interesting, pocketing an arrowhead every once in a while, he told KCEN.
The tooth could not 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 that adorn it seemed special to Castillo – and also familiar.
He had seen something similar in a museum before, a tooth belonging to a mammoth, Castillo said in a post. A few others have suggested the same theory.
To find out for sure, he brought the tooth with him to Waco Mammoth National Monument. The experts confirmed what he hoped for.
He had come across a mammoth toothestimated to be between 25,000 and 50,000 years old, Castillo said.
An ancient relative of elephants, mammoths roamed the earth for millions of years before disappearing 4,000 to 10,000 years ago. Many groups of early humans relied heavily on mammoths for food and clothing, used their massive bones to build sheltersand even turned their tusks into weapons.
It has long been assumed that humans hunted mammoths to extinction, but more recent research suggests that the end of the ice age, with rapid changes in climate and environment, was also devastating for the animals. The massive glacial melt destroyed vast swathes of plant life, leaving them with too little to eat.
It is impossible to know how the owner of the tooth met his death 50,000 years ago. Was he killed by hunters armed with spears? Did his skin keep them warm against the cold? Are his bones somewhere deep under Texas soil?
The tooth raises questions and stirs the imagination.
Castillo decided to donate it to the Waco Mammoth National Monument “so that children and visitors can see it for many years to come.”
Some told him he should sell it, but Castillo was not interested.
“The happiness and joy this fossil will bring to visitors is more important to me than any dollar amount.”