November 28, 2007

A lot can be learned from a mammoth molar

Posted by: Rebecca Durkin

The Burke’s collections total over 12 million objects, many of which are partial fossils or pieces of artifacts. But if you think that incomplete means insufficient, check out the excellent interview with Burke paleontology associate Bax Barton from Monday’s Herald (Everett, WA) .

Presented with a possible mammoth molar recently found on Hat Island, Barton takes us through the stages of paleontological research to show us what can be learned from this small piece of an enormous puzzle.

From the one tooth alone, Barton determined the specimen to be a Columbian mammoth (one of four North American species) and that the animal was roughly 21 years of age at death. With further lab study, the tooth could reveal when the animal lived, what the temperature and precipitation was like in its environment, and the diet of the mammoth.

Do you have a fossil that needs to be identified? You can make an appointment with Burke paleontologists to learn more about your fossil. Or join us on Sat., Feb. 9, 2008 at our annual Artifact ID Day and check out what other fascinating goodies community members have to inspect.

- Rebecca


Top: Fossilized mammoth molar, photo by Suzanne Schmid, courtesy of The Herald.
Bottom: Mastodon (Mammut americanum) on display in the Burke Museum, Life and Times of Washington State exhibit.