Fossil Friday – associated mastodon material

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This week we have two visiting researchers at Western Science Center. Dr. Katy Smith from Georgia Southern University has been measuring and photographing the proboscidean tusks in our collection, which we hope will lead to all kinds of new information about southern California mastodons and mammoths. Dr. Bernard Means from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Virtual Curation Lab has been here on a trip sponsored by Smithsonian Affiliations to make 3D scans of some of the WSC specimens (Bernard has written about his visit here). These visits have meant that we’ve been pulling out lots of specimens, many of which I had never seen before.

Last June I wrote about one of our mastodon jaws, which is an interesting specimen for the Mastodons of Unusual Size project because of its outlier status. This mastodon has the widest lower third molars we’ve measured in any California specimen, by a pretty large margin. As it turns out (and unknown to me until this week), we have part of the cranium from the same specimen.

In the image above, the cranium fragment is sitting beside the lower jaw, and facing the opposite direction, so anterior is to the left. The fragment consists mostly of the left premaxilla and maxilla with the associated teeth. The rather large left tusk suggests that this was a male mastodon (the distal end of the tusk is broken off). The left second and third molars are both well preserved, with the second molar fully in wear and the third molar just starting to erupt, suggesting he was in his early 20’s (and consistent with the lower jaw tooth wear).

It turns out the upper third molars are outliers, but not quite to the same degree as the lower molars. We have several California upper M3s that are wider than this tooth, but those teeth are also much longer than this one. That means that the proportions of this tooth are unusual for California, even though we have teeth that are both longer and wider than this one. In fact, there’s a tooth in our database from Ohio that is almost exactly the same dimensions as this one.

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