Local archaeologists digging in the Lake Worth area have chanced upon a rare artifact, the tooth of a long-extinct seal — one whose existence was first recorded by Christopher Columbus.
The docile species had fallen prey to hunters, who processed its carcass for oil.
Discovery of the tooth of the Caribbean monk seal at the prehistoric site along the Lake Worth shore is part of a larger study of changes to the lake over time by the Davie-based Archaeological and Historical Conservancy.
According to Robert S. Carr, the conservancy’s executive director, the lake was believed to be a freshwater body until the area’s earliest settler, Augustus Oswald Lang, cut a channel across the barrier island around 1867. That resulted in changes in the lake’s salinity. Those are being studied by the conservancy through careful examination of animal remains.
Discovery of the tooth is the first evidence of the seal found in the area. Its presence is an indicator that the seal was hunted by prehistorical people.
The United States’ last recorded sighting of a Caribbean monk seal was in 1922. Outside the United States, the creature had last been seen between Jamaica and the Yucatan peninsula as recently as 1956.
Monk seal remains have also been found at the Tequesta site at the mouth of the Miami River.
The Caribbean monk seal is survived by two relatives, the Mediterranean monk seal and the Hawaiian monk seal, both endangered.