Fishermen towing scallop drags bring a lot onboard besides scallops, usually rocks. On Dec. 20, Asher Molyneaux, captain of the 48-foot scallop boat Finlander II (and offspring of the author), hauled his dredge about two miles off Newburyport, Mass., and his deckhands began picking the pile, but something grabbed Molyneaux’s eye.
“I looked back and saw what looked like some kind of arthropod stuffed into the pile,” Molyneaux told NF. “I went back and grabbed it, and said, ‘That’s a mammoth tooth.’ I don’t know how I knew that, I must have seen a picture somewhere.”
Sure enough, Molyneaux had hauled up a piece of earth’s ancient history, a fossilized tooth from a woolly mammoth. The big-tusked elephant-like animals roamed the earth up until only 4,000 or so years ago. “I know there were some living on an island north of Siberia back when the pyramids were being built,” says Molyneaux.
According to University of New Hampshire Paleontologist William Clyde, the specimen Molyneaux found is likely 10,000 to 15,000 years old.
“I’ve been here at UNH for over 20 years,” Clyde told NF. “In that time, we’ve seen about five of these hauled up. It’s always fishermen. That’s about the only way we get specimens.”
Clyde notes that most of the mammoth teeth come from what was the Merrimack River Delta back during the last ice age, when the now submerged area was dry land.
“I’ve plotted them, and they are all from around there,” says Clyde. “But this isn’t my area of specialization, so I haven’t done further research. There was a couple, Mike and Padi Anderson, that found one that had some bone on it, and there was a marine archeologist down south who was able to carbon date it.”
While rare, mammoth teeth are found all over their former range in the northern hemisphere, and the Merrimack River delta, now submerged, seems to yield a surprising number of specimens.
“I’m still towing in that area,” says Molyneaux. “It would be amazing to find a tusk.”
For now, the mammoth tooth is at vessel owner Tim Rider’s New England Fishmongers fish market in Kittery, Maine.