When 10-year-old Joanna “JoJo” Bayens went hunting for
crab at her grandparents’ dock on Marsh Creek Lane last Tuesday,
she expected to find her usual catch of crustaceans. When she started
exploring, however, she found something she never would have imagined
in the small creek bed — a fossilized tooth belonging to a prehistoric
Not only did she find an unusual artifact, but Joanna discovered a
tooth that happened to be in pristine condition, which is a rare find
in the area.
The tooth, with the roots still intact, measures approximately seven
or eight inches in height and could be over one million years old. The
Mastodon, which became extinct 10,000 years ago, was a prehistoric elephant-like
creature that roamed up and down the Pacific Coast with prehistoric
When Joanna first spotted the tooth, the root was sticking out of the
mud right near her grandparents’ dock on Sweet Hill Creek just
outside Richmond Hill.
“I had been seeing it there for so long,” Joanna said.
“I thought it was a bunch of oysters stuck together.”
Even though she noticed the tooth before last Tuesday, Joanna never
went to dig it out of the mud because her father and grandfather warned
her not to wade out too far in the mud for fear she might sink.
But last week, curiosity got the best of Joanna and she dug out the
fossil. “It was pretty good stuck in the mud,” Joanna said.
“I had to nudge it out.”
Joanna showed her grandmother, Lynne Bayens, who had no idea what the
fossil was. They didn’t learn its identity until Joanna presented
it to her aunt and uncle who were visiting from out of state. They immediately
identified it as a mastodon tooth. Coincidently, her relatives had just
seen a similar mastodon tooth in a museum just weeks before.
Both Joanna and Bayens received further confirmation that the fossil
was indeed a mastodon tooth when a friend took it to Richmond Hill resident
and prehistoric fossil collector Bill Eberlein.
Eberlein, who has been diving for fossils along the coast for the past
seven years, and who has an extensive collection of fossils, is very
familiar with prehistoric mastodon teeth. In fact, Eberlein has found
several mastodon teeth himself, although none of them were in as perfect
condition as the tooth Joanna discovered. None of Eberlein’s were
discovered in Richmond Hill.
“In our area, it’s a really rare find,” Eberlein
said. “You will find them from time to time, but it is very rare
to find them in that condition.
“It’s a once in a lifetime find.”
Eberlein, who mainly dives for prehistoric shark teeth, was surprised
Joanna found the tooth just sticking out of the mud in a creek bed.
Most of the time the fossil layer is 30 to 40 feet below the surface,
depending on the area, although sometimes the fossils can be closer
to the surface layer, Eberlein said.
As for Joanna, the find has been a learning experience, just as much
as it has been exciting. She and her family have been researching the
mastodon online after finding the fossil. She has already become full
of knowledge on the subject of her discovery. Joanna hopes to learn
even more about the mastodon in future.
Bayens said her granddaughter is very proud of her discovery. The two
plan to contact some of the local colleges to find out more information
about the tooth and how best to preserve it.
According to Eberlein, the fossil could be worth around $1,000. Despite
its worth, Joanna plans to keep her newfound treasure.
“I might just keep it, because it might be interesting for when
I grow up,” she said. “I thought it would be interesting
for when I have a child and I can tell them how I found it.”
Even before the excitement of her latest discovery has worn off, Joanna
is already thinking about what she might find the next time she heads
down to the small tidal creek.
“She’s very anxious for the next low tide,” Bayens
said. “She wants to investigate further. “It was the highlight
of her summer.”
In fact, Joanna hopes that her entire family can search the creek together
for more fossils in the near future. She wants to experience the excitement
of finding such a unique historical object again.
“I felt like an archeologist,” Joanna said. “It was
exciting and really fun to know I found something so old.” Joanna,
who will enter the fifth grade at George Washington Carver Elementary
School next week, has always loved to explore the local waterways and
beaches, according to her grandmother.
“She likes the shells on the beaches,” Bayens said. “She’s
found shells and shark teeth, but I don’t think she thought she
would find something so interesting in her B.B.’s (grandmother’s)
Joanna is the daughter of Mickey and Kerry Bayens of Richmond Hill.
She has a sister, Vivi, 6, and a brother, Buckley, 4, who were with
her when she found her mastodon tooth.