Object of the Month:
Woolly Mammoth Tooth

Olivia, a volunteer at the Lapworth Museum of Geology here at the University of Birmingham, describes her choice of a 40,000 year old woolly mammoth tooth for the Museum's Object of the Month


Title: Woolly mammoth tooth - Lapworth Museum - Object of the Month

Duration: 1.38 mins

My name is Olivia and I’m a volunteer here at the Lapworth Museum of Geology. The Object of the Month I have chosen is this mammoth’s tooth which is 40,000 years old.

It was excavated from Upton Warren in Worcestershire in 1955 by Professor Shotton and his research assistant Russell Coope. I don’t have a paleontological background or any sort of geological background, I chose this object purely because of how impressive it is. This single tooth really gives you the impression of how big these animals were.

There were several types of mammoth. This is from a woolly mammoth, which is probably the best known. Woolly mammoths lived in Britain during the Ice Age. To stay warm they grew thick woolly coats and grew very large to maintain their body heat. They were about the same size as modern African elephants and could grow up to 11 feet at the shoulder.
Woolly mammoths had four molar teeth, two at the top and two in the bottom jaw. You can see that the surface of the tooth is ridged, which tells us a lot about their diets.

Mammoths lived off grasses and shrubs and the ridges in their teeth helped grind up the vegetation to aid digestion. Earlier types of mammoth had less ridges in their teeth and this was because they were living off softer plants in wooded areas. Woolly mammoths, the vegetation they would have eaten would have been a lot tougher and there would have been a lot more grit and soil in each mouthful. So they evolved more ridges in their teeth so the teeth would last longer. Despite this tough surface, they still had six sets of teeth throughout their lifetime – similar to how we have milk teeth as infants and then we develop adult teeth. Each replacement tooth would be larger and have more ridges as the growing mammoth would need to increase its food consumption.