Archaeologists from the nearby Museum of Natural and Cultural History in Eugene, Oregon, identified the tooth and said it is at least 10,000 years old.
On April 11, 2023, Jeremiah Longbrake was over at his grandmother’s house in Winston, Oregon, after school, jumping on the trampoline when he decided to go and explore the small creek that runs through the property.
There, in the water, the nine-year-old saw something that he believed to be a dirty plastic container. According to the Washington Post, Jeremiah grabbed a stick to fish the object out “because [he] didn’t want to leave pollution in the water.”
However, the dark brown lump wasn’t made of plastic as Jeremiah had thought. Rather, it was a multi-layered object that “felt like it was a medium-sized rock,” Jeremiah said.
At the time, Jeremiah had no idea that he was, in fact, holding a 10,000-year-old mammoth tooth.
Still, he was excited. The object was about the size of two of Jeremiah’s fists and had unique, distinctive grooves running through it. Jeremiah quickly ran inside to show the find to his mother, Megan Johnson.
“He brought it up here and I thought it was a piece of petrified wood or something,” Johnson told the local News Review. “Then I got to looking at it more and it just looked odd.”
Johnson, a “rockhounder” herself, posted a photo of Jeremiah’s discovery to Facebook. Perhaps, she thought, another rock enthusiast in her circle would be able to identify it.
“I figured I’d throw it out there to see if anybody had any ideas,” Johnson said. “And a half a day later, 12, 13 people were commenting on there, ‘That looks like a tooth.'”
Curious and slightly confused, Johnson started making some phone calls, looking for an expert who could tell her with certainty whether she was looking at a tooth “or just an odd-shaped rock.”
After three days and plenty of phone calls and emails, Johnson was referred to the Museum of Natural and Cultural History in Eugene. Archaeologists from the museum looked at the object and one of them, Patrick O’Grady, quickly got in contact to tell Johnson the exciting news: Jeremiah did indeed find a tooth — one that belonged to a mammoth roughly 10,000 years ago.
O’Grady knew from the moment he saw the photos. Mammoth teeth, he explained, are not particularly difficult to identify as they’re rather distinct. They have a banded appearance, largely due to how the enamel and dentin within them interlace.
“Everybody thought it was fake,” Jeremiah said, referring to his friends at school. “It felt very interesting and exciting.”
Mammoths roamed the Earth beginning around 300,000 years ago and went extinct in Oregon approximately 10,000 years ago. During their time, they were fairly widespread throughout the region, standing nine feet at the shoulders and weighing around 12,000 pounds.
Although the tooth could have come from anywhere, most likely it was somewhere in the banks upstream, broke off, and drifted down to where Jeremiah found it.
It’s an exciting find in its own right, but Jeremiah’s grandmother Rhonda Johnson said she “was just shocked.” She’s lived on the property for 31 years, and nothing like this has ever happened.
“They ask if we’ve found anything else, but so far, no,” she said. “You never know, though. There could be. I’m just happy Jeremiah found it. It’s been a lot of fun for him.”
Jeremiah’s mother said that her son is always on the look-out for unique things in nature, though. If anyone was going to find it, she said, it was going to be Jeremiah.
“We’re always out and about looking around,” she added. “He’s got the eye.”
O’Grady shared in the family’s excitement. It’s not every day that someone finds something dating back 10,000 years, let alone in western Oregon, where there are heavy layers of soil and plentiful vegetation.
“And for [Jeremiah] to pluck this from a stream bed is even more incredible,” O’Grady said. “If it had tumbled downstream in the water, the energy impact would have torn the layers of enamel to pieces after bumping into other rocks.”
O’Grady requested a small, dime-sized sample of the tooth to analyze further back at the museum, and Jeremiah agreed that would be fine. Beyond that, though, he hasn’t yet decided what he wants to do with the tooth. He might keep it as a memento or donate the full thing to a museum.
“He wants to hang on to it for now, because it’s his incredible find,” his mother said. “I hope his experience will encourage other curious kiddos to get outside and look around. There is still a lot of stuff out there, yet to be discovered.”
After reading about this unlikely mammoth tooth discovery, learn about 11 prehistoric animals that are hard to believe ever existed. Then, read about how de-extinction might someday bring mammoths back.