Rare Fossilized Shark Skeleton Discovered In Family's Backyard

| by Jared Keever

Paleontologists at Maryland’s Calvert Marine Museum say they, with the help of a local family, have found the fossilized remains of a 15-million-year-old snaggletooth shark. 

Stephen Godfrey, curator of paleontology for the museum, said the remains are the most complete set ever found. 

Donald Gibson first thought he might be on to something Oct. 23 when he found the first vertebra. Gibson was beginning a project to add a sunroom on to the back of his parent’s Calvert County home. 

The following week the full project began. Gibson was joined by his brother Shawn Gibson and Shawn’s 7-year-old son Caleb. They found a few more vertebrae.  

They continued digging because, as The Washington Post reports, it is not all that unusual to find fossils in the neighborhood, situated on the western shore of Chesapeake Bay. But as Caleb and his dad continued, they unearthed a 2-foot-long column of vertebrae. When they found a shark tooth at one end, they stopped digging and called Godfrey. 

That was Halloween night. They asked Godfrey and assistant curator, John Nance, to come at once. 

Godfrey had his doubts. 

“While we’re driving up there, I’m thinking to myself, ‘This can’t be an actual fossil of a shark,’” he said. “But it couldn’t be a horse or a cow. It had to be a shark.”

Any doubts were erased the minute he arrived in the backyard. 

“We were wonderstruck at seeing the articulated shark skeleton,” he told The BayNet

In all, the Gibsons had dug up about 50 vertebrae. Godfrey said they stopped just in time.

Because they stopped and called professionals, Nance and Godfrey were able to make a plaster cast of the fragile fossilized skull. 

Shark skulls, because they are mostly made of cartilage, rarely ever survive long enough to become fossils. 

Godfrey said that having the skull fragments, numerous teeth, and the vertebrae from the Gibson-family backyard will certainly help scientists better understand this shark species that lived during the Miocene Epoch. The shark the Gibsons found was likely 8 to 10 feet long, he said.

“For the first time, we’re going to be able to know what the dentition — what the teeth — looked like in this kind of shark,” Godfrey said.

Gibson said the family decided to lend the fossils to the museum so they can be studied.

Godfrey added that scientists up and down the East Coast have been contacting him about the exciting find. 

The completeness of the remains will greatly help scientists better understand shark evolution, he said. 

Sources: The Washington Post, The BayNet

Photo Source: The BayNet