These Fossils Changed the World. We’ll Never Know Who Found them.

Because they were slaves.

Matt J Weber 🦢
2 min readJun 4, 2020


In 1725, there were no elephants in America. Not anymore anyway. So when enslaved Africans found gigantic teeth buried in a swamp on the Stono Plantation in South Carolina, the white owners thought they must come from giants wiped out during the biblical flood. That’s what they told the English naturalist, Mark Catesby, who came all the way from the mother country to view these mysterious teeth. The Africans told him otherwise.

They had come from the Congo or Angola. No one knows for sure. But nevertheless, they came from Africa, and in 1725, Africa still had plenty of elephants. The slaves knew elephants and they knew elephant teeth when they saw them. That’s what they told Catesby anyway.

Although Catesby had never been to Africa himself, his line of work brought him into contact with many kinds of bones from animals all over the world — elephants being among them. He knew the Africans were right.

As I mentioned, there were no elephants in America. That meant these teeth had to come from an elephant that no longer existed. A mammoth to be specific. That made them fossils — the first vertebrate fossils discovered in America.