Thora the explorer uncovers ancient fossil

A Bunbury woman and former geologist who took to the river in south-west Alaska in search of "little treasures" has made the discovery of a lifetime, uncovering a 10,000-year-old mammoth tusk.

In August, Thora Ramsey travelled to Bristol Bay in Alaska, the very place she lived and worked while completing a degree in geology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks during the 1980s.

While visiting friends, the avid traveller, often referred to by close friends as 'Thora the Explorer', took to the rivermouth to do some bird watching.

Ms Ramsey said that what happened next would remain etched in her mind; a case of being in the right place at exactly the right time.

While following the birds as the tide fell away, Ms Ramsey spotted a blue object partially buried among the mud and stones.

Despite only being able to see the curvature of the fossil, Ms Ramsey said something told her that it was a Mammoth tusk.

But she initially convinced herself it was more likely to be part of a commercial fishing vessel.

It was only when she examined the item that she found that thousands of years of mineralisation had caused the fossil to change from white to blue in colour.

Honestly, as an old geologist, it's about the best thing that could happen.

Bunbury woman and former geologist Thora Ramsey.

Ms Ramsey dug the 1.3-metre tusk out of the mud before lugging the heavy fossil home and wrapping it in moist hessian wrap.

"I refer to it as 'mammoth day'," Ms Ramsey said.

"It was sheer luck - a case of being in the right place at the right time.

"I was doing what I always do - searching for little treasures - when I found the tusk buried in the mud.

"I think that finding a fossil is always a miracle because lots of things have to come together and be right.

"Honestly, as an old geologist, it's about the best thing that could happen."

Ms Ramsey's friends insisted the tusk be stored in a secure outdoor shed, after concerns that word could spread in the small town of just over 800 people and that someone may steal the valuable fossil.

In recent years, as permafrost has melted more fossils have come to the surface, well-preserved tusks have been known to fetch up to $1,000 per kilogram.

Bunbury woman and former geologist Thora Ramsey at the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska. Photo: Supplied.

Bunbury woman and former geologist Thora Ramsey at the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska. Photo: Supplied.

The following day, Thora and her friend delivered the tusk to US Fish and Wildlife Service officers, who were said to be over the moon with the find. They promised to restore and preserve it.

The tusk, which is believed to be between 10,000 and 30,000 years old, is now set to be displayed at the King Salmon Visitor Center in south-west Alaska, where visitors from across the world will be able to view it.

The prehistoric Woolly mammoth has been extinct for thousands of years after numbers started to dwindle 10,000 years ago as a result of a warming climate and human hunting.

It is believed the mammoth moved from Siberia into Alaska and Northern Canada through a land bridge that existed thousands of years ago.

The former Australind Senior High School chemistry teacher said she was eager to return to Alaska to see the tusk displayed.