Mystery Artifact

What do you think this object is?
Hint: This object was discovered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Hint: It was recovered from property once belonging to Benjamin Franklin.

(approximate size: 6 inches long x 5 inches tall x 4 inches wide)


The Simple Answer: This is a fossilized mastodon tooth. Mastodons are elephant-like animals that lived more than 10,000 years ago. Just over 200 years ago, Benjamin Franklin studied and wrote about fossilized mastodon bones and teeth that had recently been discovered. But wait! -- This is a trick question with an unexpected answer! Why? Because Archaeologists don't study fossils -- Paleontologists study fossils!

Paleontologists research ancient animals by studying fossils (bones and teeth).

Archaeologists research people who lived in the past by studying artifacts (objects) that people left behind.

A More Complete Answer:  This particular mastodon tooth found in the ruins of Ben Franklin's house is BOTH a fossil and an artifact. The tooth is part of an ancient animal and is composed of fossilized bone. It is at least 10,000 years old. Ben Franklin lived just over 200 years ago. Franklin and other scientists were mystified by the bones and teeth of this ancient "monster" when they were found. Once in Franklin's hands, this ancient mastodon tooth became part of the scientific world of the 18th century. It became an artifact of colonial culture. You can learn more about how this fossil is also an artifact in the tour below:

Benjamin Franklin's Mastodon Tooth: Artifact Spotlight  (archaeology at Download this free, six-part, podcast tour or view the illustrated text on-line.

(Photography by Peter Harholdt 2004, courtesy of the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary Consortium and Independence National Historical Park); Page Content prepared by P.L. Jeppson, January 2005, Update August 2006; Podcast tour courtesy of Kris Hirst, Archaeology Guide at

Do Archaeologists Dig Dinosaur Bones?
(Jay Fancher replies)

Updated 08/13/2008