M: It may look small and not very impressive, but this is a genuinely sensational object! In 2003, the milk tusk of a woolly mammoth was discovered near Lette, in a sand pit owned by the firm of Westquarz. It was the first find of this type ever reported in Westphalia. The milk tusk in the display case is actually a replica, but it’s accurate in every detail. The original is now at the Westphalian State Museum of Natural History in Münster.
F: Fully grown woolly mammoths were an impressive sight. They reached a shoulder height of up to three and a half metres – well over eleven feet. But these enormous beasts became extinct in this region some 10,000 years ago. Scholars suspect it was due to climate change. A rapid rise in temperature went hand in hand with more precipitation. The vast prairies dwindled – and so did the basic food resources on which these large animals depended.
M: But let’s take another look at our milk tusk. It measures 6.4 centimetres – two and a half inches. Remarkably, the tusk shows no signs of wear. Which means that the baby mammoth must have died before it was a year old. The milk tusk has a flattened and slightly curved shape. There are fine, shallow grooves on the inside of the curve, which tell us that this is a left tusk. And it’s at least 12,000 years old.
F: Milk tusks didn’t serve any particular purpose. Once the baby mammoth was about a year old, they were replaced by permanent tusks. This permanent set continued to grow throughout the animal’s lifetime. Take a look at the display case opposite, where you can see a section of such a permanent tusk. In adult males, the tusks could be up to two and a half metres or more than eight feet long.
M: In recent years, the sand pit near Lette has yielded even more finds: excavations have uncovered mammoth molars along with the remains of European cave lions, of giant deer called megaceros, of woolly rhinos, reindeer and wild horses. Other finds included Neanderthal tools as well as the remains of Ice Age hunters.
Fotos: © Heimatmuseum Lette