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Calif. crane operator finds mammoth tooth

Mammoth remains piece gold are displayed for mediWednesday Sept. 12 2012 after constructicrews digging site Transbay Terminal San Francisco Calif.

Mammoth remains and a piece of gold are displayed for the media on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012, after construction crews digging on the site of the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco, Calif., have unearthed the remains of a woolly mammoth. (AP Photo/San Francisco Chronicle, Carlos Avila Gonzalez)

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A wooly mammoth tooth with its enamel still intact has been discovered during the excavation for a new transit center in downtown San Francisco.

A crane operator came across the 10-inch-long brown, black and beige tooth on Monday while digging a 200-foot hole for a piling at the Transbay Transit Center.

Woolly mammoths, elephant-like animals, roamed the San Francisco Bay area some 10 million to 15 million years ago in the Pleistocene era. The tooth is broken in two and missing a chunk, but is otherwise in relatively good condition.

“It’s a significant find,” Jim Allen, a paleontologist and geologist for the transit center project, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Other wooly mammoth fossils have been found in the Bay area, including in San Francisco, but Allen said the discovery right in the middle of downtown San Francisco as well as the tooth’s surprisingly good condition are unusual.

The tooth is from the same era as fossils found in the La Brea Tar Pits in downtown Los Angeles — a paleontological gold mine of Ice Age beasts that were trapped by asphalt bubbling upward through cracks and fissures. More than a million bones have been recovered from the ponds.

The tooth appears to be from a Columbian mammoth, a relative of today’s elephants, Allen said.

Brandon Valasik, the crane operator who made the discovery, told the Chronicle he was digging through sand about 110 feet down when he noticed what resembled a rock but had an unusual shape and color.

“It looked too perfect to be a rock,” he said.

Valasik stopped digging and called over a boss, who took pictures and sent them to Allen.

The transit center construction site has also yielded other treasures, including a gold nugget and artifacts from Irish neighborhoods that stood there in the 1800s.

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