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Artist's rendering of Mammut americanum ( American mastodon)Mammut americanum
American Mastodon

Incomplete skull
TMM 1858-1
Pleistocene river terrace sand and gravels
Live Oak County, Texas

The American mastodon has an interesting name. The name Mammut might suggest that it is a mammoth, but it is not. Instead it is a member of the mastodon lineage, which is related to but different from the elephant lineage, which includes the mammoths. The scientific name Mammut means “earth burrower”. This name traces back to the Middle Ages when European farmers found the gigantic bones of mastodons in their fields and mistakenly believed that they belonged to some kind of gigantic burrowing animals. The common name “mastodon” comes from “mastodont”, which means “breast-toothed”. This term refers to the cone-like cusps on the cheek teeth.

Mastodons are members of the group of mammals called proboscideans, which was once much more diverse and widespread. Only two species survive today, the African and Asian elephants, both threatened with extinction. Mammut americanum roamed widely over North America for roughly 3.5 million years before it finally became extinct, between 12,000 and 9,000 years ago. Both climatic change and human hunting have been implicated in its extinction.

The Mammut specimen buried in the Dino Pit was one of the last of its kind in Texas. Declining populations of Mammut were concentrated in two major areas. These were the Great Lakes and the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains. In Texas they probably occupied lowland valleys and swampy areas. Stomach contents have been recovered from a few specimens and these indicate that they ate the twigs and cones of conifers, leaves, mosses, grasses, and aquatic plants. Mammut probably used its tusks to strip branches from trees upon which it fed.

The specimen buried at the Dino Pit exhibits the process of tooth replacement common to mastodons, mammoths and elephants. Over its lifetime, a proboscidean uses six sets of grinding teeth in each side of both the upper and lower jaws. As the initial set is worn, it is pushed forward by the eruption of the next larger, unworn tooth.

The original specimen was excavated by paleontologists from the Texas Memorial Museum at The University of Texas at Austin in 1939, working with support from the Work Projects Administration. Its age is estimated between 10,000 and 200,000 years old. It was long displayed at the Texas Memorial Museum, and is now at the Texas Memorial Museum´s Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory.

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