A 16-year-old high school student stumbled upon what archaeologists say could be the biggest fossil find in Pinellas County in nearly a century. A shiny black rock caught Sierra Sarti-Sweeney's eye as she was taking pictures last month in Boca Ciega Millennium Park.
"I looked down and saw a huge bone that could not be a rock. Most of it was exposed, but we dug and found that it was bigger and bigger. I thought, 'Oh my gosh, what are these? Are they people bones?'" she said.
The jaw and tooth weigh 65 pounds and are about a yard long. Sarti-Sweeney took the bones home and, after some online research with her older brother, determined the football-sized rock was actually the tooth of a long-extinct mammoth.
Paleontology and archaeology experts have confirmed the find, and recent digging at the site has turned up teeth and bones from a second mammoth, giant sloths, camels, turtles with shells up to 6-feet-long, saber-toothed cats and giant armadillos the size of Volkswagen Beetles.
Scientists believe the remains are between 10,000 and 100,000 years old.
"It's possible that it's an old river valley, (and) the animals got caught in the muck or the river washed all these animals down into one place at one time," he said. "We can get a better handle on it by analyzing the soil," said Richard Estabrook, director of USF's Florida Public Archaeology Network.