What the bones tell us

The palaeontologist and the secrets of the bones

As with many mammals, the teeth of elephants contain information about the individual. The type and number of molars, their dimensions, the number of lamellae and how, and to what extent, they were worn out reveal its age and what it used to eat

The size of the vertebrae, and of long and flat bones offer clues about the animal’s sex, height and body mass.

There are also differences between some of the bones of males and females (sexual dimorphism); for example, in females, the shape of the pelvic outlet is more rounded and wider, to cope with calving.

The maximum length of the forelimbs (scapula, humerus, radius, ulna and carpus) allow us to estimate the height at the shoulder, while other dimensional characteristics of the bones can be used to estimate the body mass of the living animal.

The state of wear and the number of laminae present in the molars indicate that the mammoth died at an advanced age, around 55 years or older, certainly weakened due to scoliotic and arthritic issues resulting from a trauma suffered some time before.

Illustrazione tratta dal volume Il Mammut, a cura di Maria Adelaide Rossi, Carsa Edizioni, Pescara 2022