JAMESON, Mo. (KTVI) — A day of exploring this summer led to the finding of a priceless fossil for a Missouri 18-year-old.

Ira Johnson, of Jameson, found the fossilized tooth of a mastodon — an elephant-like animal — in the Grand River on Aug. 29.

He said he goes exploring often after starting the hobby when he was about 5 or 6 years old, thanks to his father and uncle who introduced him to it.

“I usually find silver-plated spoons or just a bunch of junk really,” Johnson said. “When I was in there looking and I walked over to the water’s edge and I saw the tooth and I didn’t really think much about it because it looked just like a normal rock.”

Johnson’s father usually looks for arrowheads and coins and is a seasoned explorer, so when Johnson got home and showed his father what he’d found, his father’s “face brightened,” he said.

“I knew right then and there that it was something not normal that you usually find,” he said.

The tooth, which is about the size of Johnson’s hand, was confirmed by professors at the University of Iowa to be the tooth of a mastodon that lived in America during the Pleistocene Epoch over 13,000 years ago. According to the San Diego Natural History Museum, mastodons diverged from other elephant-like animals.

Johnson’s plan for next summer is to get a kayak and float down from one bridge to the next and see if he can find anything else.

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