Last month Andrew Harrelson took his fiancee and two daughters to Alaska’s Fish River for some salmon fishing. It was a nostalgic trip for Harrelson, who grew up in the nearby village of White Mountain and now lives in Nome. Harrelson had spent his childhood near the river fishing and hunting, and remembered vaguely how his own parents once met here in the search for trout. About 22 years ago, Luann and Daniel Harrelson were fishing near a bend in the Fish River when they dug up a large fossilized mammoth tusk. Little did their son know he was about to make a similar discovery.
“I knew it wasn’t a stick because there was no limbs, no branches coming off. It was really smooth,” Andrew Harrelson told KTUU. “I told myself, ‘That’s a tusk.’”
Harrelson said he returned to the same bend where his own parents recovered their tusk two decades ago. The salmon fishing was going slow, so he decided to investigate and try his own hand at fossil-finding. Sure enough, it did not take him long to spy a well-preserved tusk hidden by a tree stump. The Alaska Dispatch reports that Harrelson later returned with a relative and used an anchor to excavate the 12-foot tusk. Using the only scale they had—a bathroom scale—Harrelson measured the tusk to be a very rough 162 pounds.
Unfortunately, the Harrelson family would not have a matching pair. Mammoth tusks are valuable commodities in Alaska, fetching up to $75 a pound or more for larger specimens. in 1992, a young Luann and Daniel Harrelson decided it was best to sell the tusk, hoping to kick-start their life together. After all, when they first found their 79-pound fossil, they thought it was just a strange-looking piece of wood.
“This big, old log-looking thing,” Andrew Harrelson, who was three at the time, recalled. “I had no clue what it was until they told me.”
The Harrelsons gave the fossil to the manager of a local shop who had experience selling tusks before. The young couple had expected that the tusk would net a big check, but was later told by the manager that it had been stolen from his garage. They were paid just $1,500 for the loss.
Now Andrew Harrelson is also thinking of selling his newfound tusk, but his parents are hoping he will not make the same mistakes they did. Harrelson says he will likely use the money from the sale to help make a down payment on a new house in Nome. He is also entertaining the idea of keeping the tusk until his upcoming wedding, where it may become part of his wedding arch.
“If we still have it when the wedding comes,” Harrelson said jokingly. “Why not?”