By Eric M. Johnson
SEATTLE (Reuters) - Construction workers digging in a Seattle neighborhood have found the curved tusk of a mammoth, an ancient elephant relative that inhabited North America at least 10,000 years ago during the Ice Age.
Seattle's Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture said its paleontologists were confident that the fossil, uncovered on Tuesday, came from an Ice Age mammoth.
"The discovery of a mammoth tusk in South Lake Union is a rare opportunity to directly study Seattle's ancient natural history," said curator Dr Christian Sidor.
Crews were excavating for plumbing trenches in the city's bustling South Lake Union neighborhood when they found the tusk about 40 feet beneath ground level, said Jeff Estep, president of Transit Plumbing Inc, the subcontracting company involved in the dig.
"They hit something hard, uncovered it and saw it was long and a weird shape," Estep said. "They kept uncovering it by hand and realized it was a tusk."
The fossil was found on private property and likely not associated with an archaeological site, leaving it up to the landowner to decide what to do with the finding, according to the museum.
Mammoths, which were closely related to elephants, grew up to 12 feet at the shoulder and had a pair of long tusks that curved down from the face and upward at their ends. They arrived in North America from Asia about 2 million years ago, according to the museum.
They became extinct as the glaciers receded at the end of the last ice age, between 10,000 and 11,000 years ago, the museum said.
The Ice Age typically refers to the Pleistocene epoch, which began about 1.6 million years ago and ended about 11,000 years ago.
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in Olympia; Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Amanda Kwan)