15 Million Years. The World’s Most Well-Preserved, Extinct Snaggletooth Shark Unearthed During a Backyard Dig.

by Carolyn Sotka

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Hemipristis elongatus (Snaggletooth shark)  – The only living relative to the extinct H. Serra.
Illustration by Ann Hecht ©

What started as a fun, amateur archaeological dig during construction at a Maryland family’s home, ended with the unearthing of a 15-million year old shark skeleton. The Gibson family found more than 80 vertebrate and hundreds of distinctly shaped teeth in their backyard and called the Calvert Marine Museum to help solve the mystery of what animal the bones could be from.

The Calvert Museum sent their resident paleontologist Stephen Godfrey to investigate. “While we’re driving up there, I’m thinking to myself, ‘This can’t be an actual fossil of a shark,’ ” Godfrey said. “But it couldn’t be a horse or a cow. It had to be a shark.”

What he found was indeed a shark, and the only intact skeleton of the extinct snaggletooth shark (Hemipristis serra) ever discovered. Rarely are sharks preserved intact since they are mainly made of soft cartilage – the same stuff that gives shape to your nose. But this one sank belly-up, and dated back to the Miocene Epoch, over 15 million years ago.

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The distinctive snaggletooth of Hemipristis serra, first described by Louis Agassiz in 1843.
Image from The Fossil Guy blog.

Having this specimen in hand will allow scientists to better understand shark evolution, the likely diet of prehistoric species, the climate during the Miocene Epoch and how the prehistoric snaggletooth is related to the modern species that is rare but can be found in the Pacific.

For the full story of the remarkable discovery check out the Washington Post’s recent article.

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