Mastodon Tooth Shows Up In Donation Box; Michigan Charity Clueless To Source

By Josh Lieberman on October 10, 2013 5:45 PM EDT

mastodons
A Michigan charity received a mysterious donation of a mastodon tooth (and possibly a tusk, too). The Grand Rapids charity isn't sure where the mastodon tooth came from. Above, two specimens at the George C. Page Museum in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Weird things sometimes turn up at charity donation centers, but this has got to be among the weirdest ever: a mastodon tooth dating back at least 10,000 years. Naturally, when the Grand Rapids, Mich., charity received the mastodon tooth in July, they didn't exactly know what it was.

"The root was intact and it was cracked enough so you could see enamel," said John Timmer, who works at In The Image, the Michigan charity. "It definitely looked like some sort of tooth. But I didn't really know what to do with it." Timmer put the mastodon tooth into storage, and a week later he called up a museum to see if they knew what it was. 

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They did. A curator from the Grand Rapids Public Museum identified the lacquered tooth as belonging to a mastodon and pegged its age at about 10,000 years. The curator also said that a 10-inch piece which came in along with the mastodon tooth was perhaps a mastodon tusk, but that's not definite yet. The mastodon tooth will be added to the museum's educational collection, which is lent out to schools.

Mastodons lived in the forests of North and Central America from about 25 million years ago until their extinction about 10,000 to 11,000 years ago. It's thought that the elephant cousins went extinct due to climate change, the development of new stone weapons by hunters or a combination of the two. One pair of researchers has proposed that tuberculosis killed off the mastodons. 

The Michigan charity says they have no idea of the where the mastodon tooth came from. It was donated on a day when the organization made pickups all over Grand Rapids, so unless someone comes forward, the mystery of the mastodon tooth will never be solved. 

The director of the charity, John Starkey, told MLive.com that the mastodon tooth isn't even the strangest thing to ever turn up in the donation box. Starkey said that someone once donated an urn -- with ashes still in it. 

"That was probably the weirdest thing," he said.

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