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Mastodon tooth found in donation box at Michigan charity

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    The tooth is fractured in two places and the tusk, which is hollow at one end, may also be from a mastodon. Both are covered in lacquer, the charity's director told (Courtesy: In The Image)

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    Oct. 8, 2013: Collections Curator Alex Forist of Grand Rapids, Mich., holds a mastodon tooth which has broken into two pieces at the Community Archives and Research Center in Grand Rapids. (AP/Grand Rapids Press)

A Michigan charity that typically receives donated clothing and other used items for low-income residents recently received something really old — a mastodon tooth.

The remains of the extinct relative of the elephant were found in a donation box during a July pickup in Grand Rapids. The tooth fragments and tusk are believed to be anywhere from 12,000 to 15,000 years old and will be given by the Christian charity, In The Image, to the Grand Rapid Public Museum to add to its collection.

“It’s pretty amazing the things we get,” the charity’s executive director, Jay Starkey, told “I just looked at it and said, ‘This is something different.’”

The tooth is fractured in two places and the tusk, which is hollow at one end, may also be from a mastodon. Both are covered in lacquer, Starkey said.

The animals roamed North America more than 10,000 years ago and their remains occasionally turn up in Michigan, usually buried underground.

The charity could have sold the discovery to a private buyer and “made some money,” Starkey said, but the new additions will instead be made available for local educators to use as a classroom tool.

“It’s worth more that it’ll be part of an educational program,” he said. “We believe in that process.”

Starkey said the find joins the growing list of unusual items found in its donation boxes, including an urn filled with someone’s ashes, framed divorce papers, a painting worth $5,000 and drugs.

"This is kind of an oddball way for something to come in," said Tim Priest, the museum’s collections manager.

In July, four children found a mastodon tooth in a creek in eastern Iowa. A professor at Upper Iowa University speculated that the tooth may have belonged to a mastodon 20,000 years ago.  

Katherine McCarville, an associate professor of geosciences at the university, told KWWL that thousands of mastodon teeth have been found in North America. Most of them, however, were discovered in Siberia.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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