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Roger Weller, geology instructor

Mammoths and Mastodons
by Mark von Otten
Historical Geology
Spring 2006

Mastodon vs. Mammoth

    Mastodon                         Mammoth                

     The Mastodon was a relative of the prehistoric Mammoth, although similar in appearance there was a numerous amount of difference between the two. 


     The mammoth and mastodon are often misconceived to be much larger than what they really are. They are, in fact, very similar in size to the modern day Asian elephant, which grows up to 3 meters high at the shoulder. The coat of a mammoth was similar to that of musk oxen, growing up to 90 centimeters in length.  Other physical characteristics of the mammoth included a high-peaked forehead, and a high hump that resulted from their long spines and neck vertebrae and possibly accentuated by fat deposits and thick hair. They had a shorter trunk than the modern day Asian or African elephants that we are used to seeing today.

The Mammoth and The Mastodon

     There is a number of different Mammoth and Mastodon species that diverged from the Asian elephant after the latter group split from the African elephant. They are all mammals and belong to a species called Proboscideans. From the Mastodon two Asian and African elephants evolved.  Probably the most recognized/symbolic species of the four would be the woolly mammoth, or mammuthus primigenius, this is because of their broad geographic distribution, adaptation to cold environments, and relative abundance during the last ice age.


     The mastodon roamed the open spruce woodlands, usually in areas such as valleys and swamps. They inhabited almost all the world living in every continent except for Antarctica and Australia. The oldest known mastodon fossil is about twenty-eight millions years old and are they are thought to have gone extinct eight thousand years ago. 

     Many types of mammoths lived in northern climates, and their remains can be found in most northern regions of the world including: Europe, Northern Asia and North America. The oldest known mammoth fossil is four million years old and it is believed that the mammoths migrated to North America one and a half million years ago. The last mammoth species was a dwarf species and went extinct around 2000 b.c.; it lived near the coast of Siberia.  

Mammoth vs. Mastodon Tusk


 The Mammoth tusk is curved and can be almost long as the mammoth is tall.  The tusks could reach lengths up to 4.2 meters.                                                


The Mastodon tusk was much shorter than the mammoth tusk at 2.5 meters in length. 

Grazer vs. Browser

                   Mammoth tooth                                                    

                    Mammoth Jaw and Teeth                                          Complete Mastodon Molar

                                                                    Mastodon Tooth


     The mastodon had the same number of teeth as the mammoth did throughout their lifetimes, but the mastodons had more teeth in their jaw at any one time. Their teeth could get five inches in diameter and two and half inches thick. The mastodons had simple and low crowned teeth showing that the animal had a tendency to eat softer vegetation such as twigs and leaves.  Their teeth are very distinctive.  They're coated with enamel and have 6-8 cone-shaped cusps and are similar to that of a pig’s molar.  The roots of their teeth can be in singular form or can be attached to themselves.  


     The mammoth’s teeth are typical for a grazer, an herbivore. Their teeth could get up to eight inches tall and twelve inches wide. The tall plates of the tooth act as grinding stones and the mammoths would probably chew grass the same way a cow would. Mammoth teeth grew similar to the process of a conveyor belt.  Once a set of teeth was being completely worn down, a new set would be ready to grow in its place. This process would take place six times in a mammoth’s lifetime.  In the final set, when the teeth wore down, the mammoth would slowly starve to death.

Mammoth Tooth

The Size Difference

     The  American mastodon was estimated to weigh between four and six tons. They stood 2-3 meters tall which is about 6-9 feet at the shoulder and their bodies 5 meters long. 

     The Wooly Mammoth also weighed between four and six tons, but the Columbian Mammoth weighed between eight and ten tons. 

Mammoth Time Line 

Migration Timeline


3-4 million years ago: Mammoths appear in sub-Saharan Africa

1.7 million years ago: Mammoths cross the land bridge that linked Siberia and Alaska

13,000 - 10,000 BC: The Earth's climate changes and ice sheets gradually diminish

10,000 - 9,000 BC: Mammoths start to die out in Europe and Asia

8,000 BC: Full-size mammoths become extinct in Siberia and the Americas

2,000 BC: The last mammoths, a dwarf species found on an island off the coast of Siberia, die out.

Three species of mammoth are known to have been present in Europe and Siberia.

The most primitive mammoth was the ancestral or early mammoth, which lived in Europe between about 2.5 million and 700,000 years ago.

This was followed by the steppe mammoth, which lived until about 200,000 years ago, then the woolly mammoth, which finally died out about 3,500 years ago.