Mastodon Tooth Dating Back Over 10 Thousand Years Discovered by Missouri Teen

A treasure-hunting teenager exploring on the banks of a Missouri river last month was shocked after stumbling across a fossilized mastodon tooth.

Ira Johnson, 18, of Jameson, made the discovery while searching for antiquities along the Grand River on August 29, a hobby he shares with his father. While he previously found trinkets, watches and silver-plated spoons, this time was different.

The teenager told the North Missourian he had been close to the water when he noticed a "big rock" that appeared to be out of the ordinary. It was only after pocketing the item, heading home and showing it to his father that he realized that it was special.

"His face brightened. That's when I knew it was no ordinary tooth," Johnson told the newspaper, which shared pictures of the extinct species's tooth on Facebook.

The teen's mother contacted professors from the University of Iowa and they verified it once belonged to an American mastodon, an elephant-like animal which scientists say lived around the Pleistocene Epoch, which was more than 10,000 years ago.

According to pictures provided by Johnson, the fossil is roughly six inches long. He said it's not for sale because it has sentimental value, and will be stored in a case.

A fact-sheet about the American mastodon published by the San Diego Natural History Museum says the species became extinct 13,000 years ago. Similar in size to modern-day elephants—but smaller than mammoths—they had trunks and tusks.

The website explains: "Mastodons were herbivores. Unlike mammoths, whose ridged molars were used for grazing on grasses, mastodons' teeth were used for clipping and crushing twigs, leaves and other parts of shrubs and trees. Most of the plants they ate were ones that grew near swamps and wet areas in woodlands."

Evidence suggests the American mastodon was widespread across all of North America and well-preserved hair and near complete skeletons have been found.

"I honestly thought it was just a cow tooth or a horse tooth," Johnson told the paper. "I wasn't thinking much about it. When I figured out what it was, I was astonished."

Speaking to Fox2Now, the teen said that next summer he plans to travel along the river on a kayak to explore further. He told the North Missourian that his uncle had also found a partial mastodon tooth around the same place about five years ago, so he plans to stick to that region. For now, however, additional fossils have remained elusive.

An illustration of a prehistoric mastodon in forest lighting. Getty