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Woolly mammoth fossils unearthed at Transbay construction site


Woolly mammothWhile working on the new Transbay Terminal in San Francisco, crane operator Brandon Valasik found something unexpected in a hole 110 feet below ground level: an ancient woolly mammoth tooth and jaw.

Valasik rescued the fossils, which somehow had not been crushed by heavy construction equipment.

“The construction guys have an eye for fossils, and they will set them aside,” said Jim Allen, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority’s paleontology consultant.

Discovered Monday, the tooth in particular is a rare and lucky find, he said. It is about a foot in length and 8 inches tall.

When Allen was called to the site to see the discovery, he knew almost immediately that they came from a mammoth.

“It still has enamel, it’s a fresh tooth,” Allen said. Of course, “fresh” means about 10,000 to 11,000 years old. Given the estimated age of the tooth, this mammoth lived in the Pleistocene era not long before the species went extinct.

Teeth are excellent forensic tools, and Allen said the well-preserved tooth would help scientists uncover information about the animal, such as what it ate and how old it was. It could also help researchers better understand the Pleistocene era.

Over the course of construction of the Transbay Terminal, other artifacts have been dug up, including Gold Rush era household items and other kick-knacks.

The Transbay Authority will donate the fossils to the California Academy of Science and is in talks with the museum about displaying them for the public.

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