In late August Sarah Warnock—who returned to live in West Marin in 2018 when her husband Nils was appointed director of conservation science at ACR—was combing the Tomales Bay shoreline near Cypress Grove Research Center. Although trained as an ornithologist, Sarah has a passion for fossils and was on a mission. She was rewarded beyond all expectation when she found the roots of a mammoth molar sticking up through the rocky shore, as if to wave hello. Having lived for many years in Alaska, where mammoth fossils are not uncommon, Sarah recognized it right away.
Since the discovery, Sarah has been working with regional experts to confirm the identity of the fossil and to devise a plan to carefully remove the molar for future analysis. Bobby Boessenecker, paleontologist and adjunct faculty at College of Charleston in South Carolina, confirmed the ID. Breck Parkman, who in 2001 gave the region a new understanding of the behavor of Columbian mammoths along the coast, referred us to geologist/paleontologist James Allen for excavation. Over the course of two days, James excavated the single tooth, which he thinks might be Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius).
While the find alone is thrilling, there is a possibility that the tooth, surrounding material and location may be able to allow scientists to pinpoint the timeline for the birth of Tomales Bay. Stay tuned for further developments!
More detail is included in this article from Press Democrat reporter Mary Callahan.
Learn more about mammoths on the north coast in this San Francisco Chronicle profile of Breck Parkman’s discovery at Goat Rock.
Photos of tooth and extraction activities: Sarah Warnock; photo of Sarah: Nils Warnock