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The 5,000,005 year old fossil

by Brian Dunning, Dec 08 2011

This shark tooth has a very surprising history.

It is from an extinct Giant Mako shark (Isurus hastalis) that died in the early Miocene epoch, at least 5,000,000 years ago. The shark’s remains settled into the silt that later became part of the Monterey formation in what is now Newport Beach, CA.

A long time later in 2006, my friend and chainmaille artist Chris Perley was poking around there for fossils. He’s found some 100 shark teeth of various species in this same spot, a well-known rocky promontory in town that probably wouldn’t benefit from this particular kind of publicity. But that’s not the surprising part.

What Chris had found was most of the specimen shown in this picture. Notice that the bottom left corner has been broken off (Chris glued it back together himself). Five years later in 2011, he was searching the same area, and found a piece of bone that looked a lot like the 2006 tooth. He brought it home, and, in an amazing confluence of cosmic energies, it was the missing piece now seen reassembled in the photo.

Chris brought the restored tooth to our Science & Suds gathering at an Irish pub in Newport this evening. It’s a jolly crew, and you’re invited to join us if you’re ever in the area.

References Chris used for his ID’ing and dating his tooth:

8 Responses to “The 5,000,005 year old fossil”

  1. Donald Prothero says:

    That’s actually happened a number of times in paleontology. One famous example is when my graduate advisor was visiting Moscow and saw part of a jaw of Phenacolophus collected by the Soviets in Mongolia in the 1950s. He recognized that it looked a LOT like the original specimen of Phenacolophus fallax collected in the same place in the 1920s. The next time he visited Moscow, he brought a cast of the American Museum specimen–and they fit together, even though they were collected 30 or more years apart!

  2. LovleAnjel says:

    That’s so cool! It’s one those rare “aha” moments.

  3. Bill says:

    Was there a flash of light, a pronounced ‘click’ and a dramatic flourish in the soundtrack when the pieces were first matched together?

  4. Dave Willoughby says:

    When my brother and I were just lads in the late ’70s, we would often go fossil hunting in the hills near our home in Wyoming. On one trip i remember my brother finding a fist sized rock with several good fossils embedded within. About 40 feet farther on, under a layer of dust that had washed off in a recent storm he found another, similar rock. It wasn’t until he went to put them in his pocket that he realized they were originally a single rock!