Mammoths and Mastodons Stuck Close to Home

Study of ancient teeth reveal surprising clues about how and where they lived

By Shelley Hazen,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 30, 2014 6:40 PM CDT

(Newser) – Mr. Snuffleupagus and friends didn’t much like to leave home—at least not the ones that lived in what is now Ohio and Kentucky, a University of Cincinnati study reveals. Researchers had long believed mammoths and mastodons were nomadic, but their teeth tell a different story. Mammoths ate grasses and sedges near retreating ice sheets; and mastodons chomped on leaves and shrubs near the forest, Live Science explains. And those feeding grounds seem to be where they stayed year-round. Researcher Brooke Crowley analyzed the carbon, oxygen, and strontium in the enamel of 20,000-year-old molars for clues about diet, climate, and travels.

"Strontium reflects the bedrock geology of a location," says Crowley. "If an animal grows its tooth in one place and then moves elsewhere, the strontium in its tooth is going to reflect where it came from, not where it died." Mammoths and mastodons living in southwestern Ohio and northwestern Kentucky didn’t stray far: For example, research revealed molars from all but one mastodon matched local water samples. Crowley says the findings may benefit endangered Asian and African elephants—their fuzzy counterparts are ancient cousins—since it "allows us to understand how species in the past lived and interacted. And the past is the key to the present." (Another elephant ancestor was hunted by ancient humans.)

  (Shutterstock)
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