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Mammoth ivory hg

Section through the ivory tooth of a mammoth from Siberia

Teeth are among the most distinctive (and long-lasting) features of mammal species. Paleontologists use teeth to identify fossil species and determine their relationships. The shape of the animal's teeth are related to its diet. For example, plant matter is hard to digest, so herbivores have many molars for chewing. Carnivores, on the other hand, need canines to kill and tear meat.

Fossilized teeth are very resistant, often preserved when bones are not, [1] and reflect the diet of the host organism, they are very valuable to archaeologists and paleontologists. Early fish such as the thelodonts had teeth for scales, suggesting that the origin of teeth was scales which were retained in the mouth. Fish as early as the Late Cambrian had dentine in their exoskeleton, which may have functioned in defense or for sensing their environment.[2] Dentine can be as hard as the rest of teeth, and is composed of collagen fibres, reinforced with hydroxyapatite.[2]

Decalcification removes the enamel from teeth and leaves only the organic interior intact, which comprises dentine and cementine.[3] Enamel is quickly decalcified in acids,[4] perhaps by dissolution by plant acids or via diagenetic solutions, or even the stomach of vertebrate predators.[3] Enamel can also be lost by abrasion or spalling, [3] and is lost before dentine or bone are destroyed by the fossilisation process.[4] In such a case, the 'skeleton' of the teeth would consist of the dentine, with a hollow pulp cavity.[3] Dentine, conversely, is destroyed by alkalis.[4]

See also[]


  1. ^ Taphonomy: A Process Approach By Ronald E. Martin. Illustrated Edition. Published by Cambridge University Press, 1999. ISBN 0521598338, 9780521598330. 508 pages
  2. ^ a b CHAPTER 5: Development, Function and Evolution of Teeth By Mark F Teaford, Moya Meredith Smith Published by Cambridge University Press, 2007 ISBN 0521033721, 9780521033725 324 pages
  3. ^ a b c d Fisher, Daniel C (1981), "Taphonomic Interpretation of Enamel-Less Teeth in the Shotgun Local Fauna (Paleocene, Wyoming)", Museum of Paleontology Contributions, the University of Michigan 25 (13): 259–275, 
  4. ^ a b c Fernandez-Jalvo, Y. (2002). "Morphological taphonomic transformations of fossil bones in continental environments, and repercussions on their chemical composition". Archaeometry 44: 353. doi:10.1111/1475-4754.t01-1-00068.