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Downtown SF Construction Dig Unearths Mammoth Tooth

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) - Crews working on the massive Transbay Transit Center project in downtown San Francisco made an archeological find on Monday - what appears to be the tooth and jaw of an extinct mammoth.

A crane operator named Brandon Valasik found the tooth on Monday morning while excavating at the East end of the Transbay Terminal dig. He was lifting soil out of a cylinder 1,100 feet deep, then dumping it in a separate pile. He glanced down at the pile of soil and saw what appeared to be a discolored rock, but he knew something wasn't right.

"It just looked completely different than material we are usually excavating here. It just popped out. It was completely different," said Valasik. "It just looked too perfect to be a rock."

The two pound artifact is believed to have come from a Columbian Mammoth, and estimated to be roughly 11,000-years-old, according to the Transbay Joint Powers Authority.

"I started digging deeper and discovered another bigger piece and at that point, I realized it was not a rock," said Valasik. "It was kind of surprising. I would never guess that they would ever live in the Bay Area."

According to TJPA, the Pleistocene era relative of modern elephant lived at a time when the Bay Area more closely resembled the grassy plains of the Serengeti in East Africa. Similar discoveries have been made on digs in Southern California.

"This is the grinding part where the mammoth would chew up leaves and vegetation. The enamel is still here," said Jim Allen, the paleontologist who's been examining the tooth. He dates the artifacts as being at least 11,000 years old.

"But it could be as old as the San Jose mammoth found on the shoreline of the Bay a couple of years ago. So it could be 15,000 [years old]," he said.

KCBS' Chris Filippi Reports:

Despite the find, work is continuing at the project site and workers have said they hope to find more interesting artifacts.

Maria Ayerdi Kaplan, Executive Director of the Joint Powers Authority said that this is something very important to the overall project.

"We've had archaeologists on the site at various times over the years uncovering a number of things from the gold-rush era, Chinese businesses, schools, homes. It really gave us a feel for what it was like to live in San Francisco in the early part of last century," said Kaplan.

The TJPA said it plans to donate the find to the California Academy of Sciences.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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