Art Castillo was hiking Waco’s Cotton Belt Trail recently when he came upon something odd sticking out of a creek.
At first glance, it looked like a rock. But its layers and patterning made Castillo think it could be something more exciting. He brought it to the Waco Mammoth National Monument the next day for closer inspection.
The park confirmed his suspicions: Castillo had found part of a tooth belonging to a Columbian mammoth.
“I’ve always been looking for something, whether it’s like, arrowheads…” Castillo said in an interview. “I’ve never found anything like that before.”
Columbian mammoths lived around Central Texas about 65,000 years ago, according to the National Park Service. They grew to over 14 feet in height – much larger than their distant relative, the Woolly mammoth.
Columbian mammoths used their ridged teeth – like the one Castillo found – to munch on grasses, trees and other plants. They went extinct about 10,000 years ago.
It’s not uncommon for people to find mammoth teeth across Central and North Texas, according to Ron Tykoski, the Vice President of Science at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. He said mammoths were big fans of the area during the Ice Age.
“It just goes to illustrate how many mammoths there were in Texas, for how long they were there,” he said.
After confirming his discovery with the Waco Mammoth National Monument, Castillo donated the tooth to the City of Waco, which operates the park in conjunction with the National Park Service.
In a Facebook post, Castillo wrote that he didn’t ask for any money for the tooth: “The happiness and joy this fossil will bring to visitors is more important to me than any dollar amount.”
The tooth is too damaged to be used for research purposes, but it can still be displayed at the monument for educational purposes, according to Raegan King, the site manager at Waco Mammoth National Monument for the City of Waco.
King said since the tooth is partially damaged, kids and adults can examine its layers and learn more about how mammoth teeth are formed. “It’s a piece that kids will be able to touch and look at closely,” she said.
Castillo said in an interview he wanted the tooth to be in a place where visitors could see and enjoy it. Prior to finding it, he said he had been going through difficulties in his personal life. On Facebook, he wrote that the discovery “couldn’t have come at a better time.”
“Anything positive is a good thing right now, you know?” Castillo said.
Adithi Ramakrishnan is a science reporting fellow at The Dallas Morning News. Her fellowship is supported by the University of Texas at Dallas. The News makes all editorial decisions.
WACO MAMMOTH NATIONAL MONUMENT
LOCATION 6220 Steinbeck Bend Drive, Waco, Texas 76708
HOURS The monument is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday through Saturday.
FOSSILS The monument’s Dig Shelter features the fossil remains of several Columbian mammoths in situ, or in the original place where they were discovered. The site is regarded as the country’s first, and only, recorded nursery herd of Columbian mammoths from the Ice Age.
FEES Admission to the Dig Shelter is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors over 60, and $3 for children. Military and student discounts are available.