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 American Mastodon.
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 man.
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) backyard.”
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.