Mammuthus trogontherii

The mammoth tooth is one of the first remains of a mammoth ever collected in Siberia. In the seventeenth century, Europeans started to explore Siberia, discovering mammoths and initiating research on these giant extinct mammals. The first frozen mammoth sent to Europe was found by Dr Daniel Gottlieb Messerschmidt (1685–1735), a German physician, naturalist and geographer appointed by Tsar Peter the Great in 1718 to explore Siberia in a campaign that lasted from 1722 until 1728. Some of the specimens collected by Messerschmidt were published by the German botanist, palaeontologist and entomologist, Johann Philipp Breyne (1680–1764). It seems that a mammoth molar now in the collections of the NHM had been figured and described by Breyne in his Observations on the Mammoth’s bones and teeth found in Siberia in 1737. This specimen, now in two pieces, matches with Breyne’s description. It has a weight of 8 lbs 3 ozs and is 6 inches long and 3 inches thick, as Breyne stated. Sloane’s catalogue records it in this way: “Dens molaris petrificarus animalis Mammalodicti in siberis sub terra repertus, ex armentario Domini Witsen. Segvelt p.37 Theca 17 nr 15”. Sloane evidently bought it at an auction from Johan van Segvelt (d. 1737), Director of the Dutch West India Company. According to the auction catalogue, Segvelt obtained it from the cabinet of curiosities of Nicholaes Corneliszoon Witsen (1641–1717), a Dutch traveller, geographer, maritime writer and diplomat, who collected numerous objects, including some during his travels to Russia in 1664 and 1665. He first introduced the name mammoth to Western Europe in 1694. He wrote: “By the inlanders these teeth are called mammouttekoos, while the animal itself is called mamout” (kost is the Russian word for bone). Witsen was also probably the first person to study frozen mammoth flesh - he wrote in his work of 1695, Noord en Oost Tartarye, that he saw the dark brown, smelly remains of an immense Siberian creature called the mammout. While Sloane was correct in recognising the mammoth remains as coming from a relative of modern elephants, he assumed that Siberia once had a tropical climate and its elephants disappeared during the Biblical Flood. Regardless of the source of the mammoth molar from either Messerschmidt or Witsen, this specimen is one of the first mammoth teeth from Siberia to have reached Europe. The number of plates in the tooth indicates that it belongs to Mammuthus primigenius, a woollen mammoth species that is rare in Siberia. Therefore, the specimen is of considerable scientific as well as historical significance.

Cite this as

Consuelo Sendino (2018). Dataset: The Fossil Historical Collections. Resource: Mammuthus trogontherii. Natural History Museum Data Portal (data.nhm.ac.uk). https://doi.org/10.5519/0097768

Retrieved: 02:17 22 Jul 2018 (GMT)

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Last updated April 25, 2018
Created April 25, 2018
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