Finding Seaside Shark’s Teeth and Creating DIY Jewelry
by Carolyn Sotka
Photo and earrings by Carolyn Sotka (possibly a Bull shark – but I welcome suggestions).
This past summer, Folly Beach, South Carolina became a fantastic hunting ground for fossilized shark teeth. Thanks to a beach renourishment project (despite its huge investment that could be wiped out from one major storm) buried sediment from offshore was dumped onto the beach and thousands – maybe millions – of shark teeth were unearthed. Shark tooth hunting has since become an obsession for many of us, and sparked several DIY projects including jewelry making.
Human fascination with shark teeth dates back thousands of years, with evidence of ceremonial use in Native American burial grounds. Polynesians have long incorporated shark teeth symbolism into their tattoos, which they view as their ‘language of the ancients’.
In the early years A.D., shark teeth were thought to fall fraom the sky during lunar eclipses and during the Renaissance period were believed to be petrified dragon or snake tongues. They were considered a remedy for poison and treatment of snakebites and were also worn as pendants, or good-luck charms.
One of the seminal Renaissance artists, Leonardo da Vinci, pointed out one of the first documented connections between ‘body fossils’ like shark teeth, and once living creatures from an ancient sea. A century later, naturalist Nicolaus Steno would postulate that fossils were snapshots of life at different moments in Earth’s history, and that rock layers formed slowly over time.
The Head of a Shark Dissected by Nicolaus Steno – Berkeley Library
These initial observations became the pillars of paleontology and geology and illustrated the importance of fossils as key evidence for how life evolved on Earth over the past four billion years. The most ancient sharks date back 450 million years ago, during the Late Ordovician period, but most of the commonly found fossil sharks teeth are from the Cenozoic period, (from 66 million years ago to the present). In the southeast U.S., most of the shark teeth are around 4-5 million years old but teeth can still regularly be found from extinct species like the 60 foot long Megalodon that terrorized the oceans from 28 to 1.5 million years ago.
Fossilized shark teeth are really one of the only relics left behind by sharks. Their bodies are mainly cartilaginous and unless they’re quickly buried by sediment, do not leave a historical footprint. Sharks constantly shed their rows of teeth, up to 35,000 in a lifetime. In order for these teeth to fossilize, they must sink the seafloor and also be covered by sediment. Imagine how many billions upon billions of teeth are still waiting to be revealed.
Shark’s teeth can be found in freshwater rivers and buried deep in the ocean. The Earth’s oceans have risen and fallen due to changes in the climate over the millenia and sediments deposited underwater 10,000 years ago, may be on dry land today.
Typically, shallow marine environments tend to have more teeth, because sharks were likely drawn into these areas looking for food and cover. Recently shed shark teeth are white in color while ancient, fossilized teeth can come in a variety of colors from black to several shades of tan.
Shark Teeth Guide By My Scuba Shop
Tips for Finding Shark Teeth:
- On beaches, look at the wrack line or the line of seaweed, shells and detritus that is left behind after outgoing tides.
- Look for shiny or black objects; once your search image clicks in, it is easier to see the teeth amidst all the other flotsam. Shark’s teeth are also generally found amidst fragments that are roughly the same size as the teeth – as shells and other marine debris are generally sifted into similar size gradients by wave action. In other words, you’re less likely to find sharks teeth where there’s only sand or very small pieces of shell.
- Bring a wire screen on a wooden frame and stiff-bladed shovel to sift sand/dirt.
- In creeks, search along the pebbly areas of the beds and go out after a rainstorm because previously buried teeth could have washed off.
How to Make Simple Studs:
- Fix shark teeth with super glue to hypoallergenic ear stud posts that can be purchased at any craft store.
- If you prefer a glossy look, paint a thin layer of clean nail polish for extra shine. (see above for photo).
How to Make Simple Necklaces:
- Drill a hole in the top of the tooth with a small drill bit (a diamond drill bit works best).
- Paint the tooth with a liquid metal, acrylic paint in gold.
- Place a gold ring through the drilled hole and string a gold chain through the ring.
Photo provided by Etsy.
Rare Fossils and Precious Metals: If you are looking something more posh, check out these Etsy sites.
Photo by Stella Shark Tooth Dangles
Photo by ERoseJewelry on ETSY
Whatever your fancy, if you love the ocean, and love searching for small treasures – this is a wonderful way to incorporate a priceless piece of the sea into your jewelry collection. –CS