By Jess McHugh
August 30, 2016
Excavation of a Columbian Mammoth skeleton showing skull and ivory tusks.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Construction workers along a highway in Austria made a surprising discovery when they accidentally dug up a set of mammoth tusks about 30 miles north of Vienna.

The tusks were more than a million years-old and are an unusual find, according to local reports.

The highway crew called in experts from the nearby Vienna Museum of Natural History to investigate when the discovery was first made in mid-August. Measuring around 2.5 meters, or about 8.2 feet, the tusks came from a breed of mammoth even paleontologists rarely see.

“Finds of this quality are very rare,” said Oleg Mandic, a paleontologist at Vienna's Natural History Museum, according to the BBC. “The 2.5 meter-long tusks in particular are a rarity.”

Scientists covered both tusks in plaster wraps in order to transport them to the museum where they will be given extra preservation care before being studied. Several vertebrae from the animal were also discovered nearby.

Given the age of the tusks, this breed of mammoth would have predated wooly mammoths, as well as humans, by several hundred thousand years, if not more. Wooly mammoths, which were much smaller than other mammoth ancestors, didn’t evolve until about 120,000 years ago. The exact cause of their extinction remains somewhat mysterious, and scientists have postulated that the wooly mammoths died out as a result of hunting by humans and a change in climate.

Jess McHugh is a digital reporter for Travel + Leisure. You can find her on Twitter at @MchughJess.