It looked just like a sand-covered lump — but amateur palaeontologist Brad Damms instantly recognised the find he made on a Norfolk beach as a mammoth’s tooth.
Experts have identified the fossil molar as coming from a southern mammoth, which would have lived sometime between 2.5 million and 1.5 million years ago.
Unlike woolly mammoths, these beasts were hairless — but possessed big, robust tusks and as adults would have stood at around 13 feet (four metres) tall.
The partially complete tooth was found Norfolk resident Brad Damms on the beach at Sidestrand, which is located east of Cromer.
‘It was lying on top of the sand,’ he said.
‘I knew what it was as I am a member of various fossil Facebook pages but the experts on the groups confirmed it as part of a southern mammoth tooth.
Mammoths are distant relatives of modern-day elephants.
Different mammoth species can be distinguished from each other by counting the number of enamel ridges on their molars.
Primitive species had fewer ridges, with the number increasing as new species evolved that fed on more abrasive foodstuffs.
Southern mammoth had 12–14 ridges, a moderate number.
The southern mammoth, Mammuthus meridionalis, lived across both Europe and Central Asia between around 2.5 million and 1.5 million years ago.
Adults of the species could reach a shoulder height of around 13 feet (four metres) and are believed to have typically weighed around 10 tonnes (10,000 kilograms).
Southern mammoths were among the largest elephant-like animals ever to have lived.
As is common among mammoths, they had strong twisted tusks.
The southern mammoth has been found alongside other animal and plant fossils that suggest they lived in a time when the climate was relatively mild and got about as warm, or slightly more hot, than Europe does today.
Given this, experts believe that it lacked the dense fur of its more famous relative, the woolly mammoth.
This analysis is supported by studies of teeth just like the one that Mr Damms found.
Tiny scratches and pits in the dental enamel suggest that the creatures lived by browsing on the foliage of woodland leaves and shrubs that also would have lived in a warm climate.
Trees these mammoths ate would have included ash, beech, hemlock, hickory and oak.
It is not known if the tooth represents one that the mammoth lost during it life, or whether the mammoth died and the molar represents the only known part of its skeleton that has been discovered.
The mammoth tooth is not Mr Damms only discovery, however.
‘I’ve also found a lot of fossilised bones too on Sidestrand,’ he said.
‘But I know they can be found up the coast to West Runton.
‘The tide washes in bits of fossilised bone and tooth daily, so it’s exciting wondering what can be found.’