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November 1, 2010

A beginner's guide to how we identify a surprisingly common enquiry: mammoth and elephant teeth.


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This tooth above was a family heirloom brought in for ID this week. Many elephant and mammoth teeth that are brought in are heirlooms that have been knocking about the house for a couple of generations. This is an Asian elephant tooth. It is a molar, so it's a grinding tooth.



The grinding surfaces of an Asian elephant tooth (left) and an African elephant tooth (right) in the Museum's Mammals gallery. The African elephant tooth has a more diamond shaped pattern to the grinding surface.



And the elephants themselves in the Mammal gallery - African (left) and Asian (right). Asian elephants are smaller than African elephants and their teeth are smaller on average too.



On the left, a mammoth tooth. On the right, a modern Asian elephant tooth.


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Mammoth tooth. This was dredged up by a fisherman from the North sea and brought to us for ID. Mammoth teeth have a similar grinding surface to the Asian elephant, so look different to the grinding surface of the African elephant. And mammoths are indeed more closely related to Asian elephants than African elephants!


Mammoth and elephant teeth can be very fragile and tend to crack downwards as you can see here. This can leave isolated plates instead of the whole tooth.


Hopefully you can now begin to identify elephant and mammoth teeth!