Mammoth and Mastodon Teeth and Museums

November 05, 2011

Woolly mammoth_and _mastodon_(2)_1296_102111 (2)

Photographers: Alana Ketchum, Bryan Mason, Jack Kimball, and David Hill
Summary Author: John Stetson

The photo above showing a tooth of a woolly mammoth (left) and a mastodon (right) was taken at the L.C. Bates Museum of Natural History in Hinckley, Maine. Wooly mammoths were grazers, consuming huge quantities of grasses and as such, they had teeth like grinding stones. Mastodons on the other hand were browsers and had teeth adapted to chewing twigs, leaves and tree bark.

The photo of these teeth tells an interesting story. Part of the story is how individuals start to think of themselves as learners and scientists. When G.W. Hinckley, the founder of the L.C. Bates Museum of Natural History and the founder of the G.W. Hinckley School was a boy he received three rocks from a neighbor who was a rock collector. At that moment, Hinckley decided that these three rocks were the beginning of his museum collection that, over time, grew to include these mastodon and mammoth tooth specimens. The museum was to create opportunities for people to wonder about the natural world. Other scientists and even U.S. Presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt have had similar experiences with museums, close observation and collecting specimens. In Oliver Sacks’s memoir, "Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood" the author expressed his love of science museums:

“The museums … allowed me to wander in my in my own way, at leisure … without being forced to follow any curriculum, to attend any lessons, to take exams …There was something passive, and forced upon me, about sitting in school, whereas in museums one could be active, explore, as in the world.”

Sacks also writes about his version of Hinckley's three rocks comprised of a collection of London bus tickets with letters and numbers coincident of chemical elements of the periodic table:

“… eventually, I had all the known elements, from H 1 to U 92. … I loved carrying my little collection of chemical bus tickets with me; it gave me the sense that I had, in the space of a single cubic inch, the whole universe, its building blocks, in my pocket.”

The fact that current students are interested enough to photograph the mammoth tooth and mastodon tooth opens the possibility of collecting their personal versions of Hinckley’s three rocks. Thanks to Deborah Staber, the director of the L.C. Bates Museum, a natural history museum connected to the Good Will-Hinckley School, who was gracious enough to provide us with access to these exhibits. Photo taken on October 20, 2011.

Photo Details: Camera: NIKON D300; Focal Length: 105.0mm; Aperture: f/36.0; Exposure Time: 0.0040 s (1/250); ISO equiv: 640; Software: QuickTime 7.6.6.