Image: Whale jawbone
Kristina Gill  /  AP
This jawbone of a prehistoric pygmy whale was originally believed to be a mammoth tusk.
updated 1/27/2009 12:17:32 PM ET 2009-01-27T17:17:32

A graduate student this month photographed what some thought was a remarkable find: A complete tusk of a prehistoric pygmy mammoth.

It turned out to be something far older.

A team of researchers spent two days on Santa Cruz Island excavating and determined it was a jawbone from an extinct whale species.

Lotus Vermeer of the Nature Conservancy says the bone was found in a rock formation estimated to be between 9.5 million to 25 million years old — long before mammoths roamed the Channel Islands.

The team dug out the bone and cast it in plaster. The bone is about 3 feet in length.

A number of other bones were found nearby that could be even older and may include an intact whale skull.

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