Two miners in Nova Scotia have found something that might be far more precious than minerals.

Lawrence MacNeil and Sandy MacLeod dug up an ancient mastodon bone at a gypsum quarry in Little Narrows, Cape Breton last week. The tibia bone, from a young mastodon that lived up to 80,000 years ago, is now at the Nova Scotia Museum.

Kathy Ogden, assistant curator at the Nova Scotia Museum, said there have only been a half-dozen such finds in the entire province.

“It was pretty evident from the photos we received early on that we were dealing with something pretty significant, so it was very exciting,” she told CTV News.

MacNeil made the discovery at approximately 15 meters below ground when he noticed a strange shape in the earth. “Normally in mud or in clay, you wouldn’t see that, you wouldn’t see something so perfectly round. So right away I thought obviously, it’s a bone of some kind,” he told CTV News.

He found a few smaller bits of bone along with the tibia.

The mastodon, an extinct genetic “cousin” to present-day elephants, died out approximately 10,000 years ago. Early humans are said to have contributed to its extinction.

The bones will be added to the Nova Scotia Museum’s collection, which includes a juvenile mastodon jawbone found 22 years ago.

That jawbone – the last such discovery in the province – spawned a tourist attraction called Mastodon Ridge in the village of Stewiacke near Milford, N.S. The tourist attraction includes a life-sized statue of a male mastodon.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Amanda Debison