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Head Of Giant 330-Million-Year Old Shark Found In Kentucky Cave Wall

by : Emily Brown on : 30 Jan 2020 18:19
Great White SharkPexels

Paleontologists are amazed at the discovery of a 330-million-year-old shark head in a the wall of a Kentucky cave. 

The discovery was initially made last year by cave specialists Rick Olson and Rick Toomey, who came across the surprising fossil while exploring and mapping the Mammoth Cave system in Mammoth Cave National Park.

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The researchers struggled to identify exactly what animal the bones belonged to, so they sent photos to Vincent Santucci, the senior paleontologist for the National Park Service in Washington, D.C., with the hopes he would be able to help.

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Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the cave… A field team from Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s Dinosaur Park made some amazing discoveries of Late Mississippian shark fossils inside Mammoth Cave! The Mammoth Cave National Park Fossil Shark Research Project has already documented over 100 individual specimens of sharks from inside the cave system! Their findings even included parts of a large shark head. Based on what they see exposed in the cave wall there is a lower jaw, indeterminate cranial cartilages, and several teeth to a shark approximately the size of a living Great White Shark. Shark teeth are made of bone and enamel which does preserve well, but shark skeletons are extremely rare because cartilage doesn't always preserve in the fossil record. The preservation of these shark fossils is superb. Because the cave is not exposed to external elements such as rain, snow, and wind, the rate of erosion of the limestone in the cave is slow so fossils tend to be very detailed and mostly intact. Mammoth Cave National Park proudly protects and preserves important and fragile non-renewable resources such as these shark fossils for the benefit of science and public education. For more information about the NPS Fossil and Paleontology program visit the park service website: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/fossils/index.htm #Findyourpark #sharkfossil

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Santucci sent paleontologist John-Paul Hodnett to get a closer look at the fossil, the Louisville Courier Journal report. Though Hodnett was able to identify most of the shark fossils in the images, he became particularly interested in one set of remains.

Discussing the find, the paleontologist said:

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One set of photos showed a number of shark teeth associated with large sections of fossilised cartilage, suggesting there might be a shark skeleton preserved in the cave.

Shark fossil found in Kentucky cavemammothcavenps/Instagram

The fossil intrigued Hodnett as cartilage does not typically survive fossilisation, meaning shark skeletons are rare. However, as their teeth are made of bone and enamel, their teeth typically preserve well.

Upon arriving at the cave, Hodnett was amazed at the discovery.

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The paleontologist continued:

I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to see in the cave during my trip in November. When we got to our target specimen my mind was blown.

Great White SharkPixabay

As it turned out, the fossils made up a shark’s lower jaw, skull cartilage and several teeth. Given the dimensions of the remains, they are believed to have belonged to a creature roughly the size of a Great White Shark.

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Great Whites can range in length from 11 feet to 21 feet.

Hodnett determined the shark to be from a species called ‘Saivodus striatus’, which was around in the Late Mississippian period, about 330 to 340 million years ago.

The find is particularly significant because the time period is not typically well-represented in North America.

Shark fossil found in Kentucky cavemammothcavenps/Instagram
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Discussing the importance of the fossils, Hodnett continued:

Most significantly, the majority of the shark fossils we discovered come from a layer of rock that extends from Missouri to Virginia but never documented the presence of sharks, until now.

It’s like finding a missing puzzle piece to a very big picture.

The project, dubbed the Mammoth Cave National Park Fossil Shark Research Project, has uncovered more than 100 individual specimens. The teeth and dorsal fins of other shark species are also exposed in the cave ceiling and walls.

Hodnett believes researchers have ‘just scratched the surface’ in terms of uncovering fossils in Mammoth Cave.

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Emily Brown

Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.

Topics: Science, fossils, great white shark, kentucky

Credits

Louisville Courier Journal
  1. Louisville Courier Journal

    Sharks in Kentucky? What explorers found in Mammoth Cave is blowing researchers' minds