Maryland Family Discovers 15-Million-Year-Old Shark Skeleton In Backyard

A Maryland family recently uncovered the most complete fossil skeleton of an ancient snaggletooth shark ever found, after they discovered the remains while clearing space for a new sunroom.

Donald Gibson discovered the first vertebra from the ancient shark on October 23, according to the Washington Post, while digging in the backyard of his parents’ Calvert County home. Aided by his brother, Shawn, and his 7-year-old nephew, Caleb, he discovered more of the skeleton, eventually revealing a two-foot-long column of vertebrae.

Stephen Godfrey, curator of paleontology for the Calvert Marine Museum, asserted that the discovery is unusual because of the number of bones discovered. The Gibsons uncovered more than 80 vertebrae and hundreds of teeth, all from the same shark. The position of the skeleton and its state of preservation made the find such a rare discovery that Godfrey initially doubted the family’s story.

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

“It was immediately obvious,” he concluded. “It was a genuine article.”

The particular, snaggletooth shark that the Gibsons discovered would have been between eight to 10 feet long in life, according to WTOP. A shark’s skull, which is made of cartilage instead of bone, almost never withstands the ravages of time, as the Inquisitr previously noted. The shark that ended up in the Gibsons backyard sank belly-up when it died in the Miocene epoch, however.

Due to the process of fossilization, its skull cavity retained its shape, and Godfrey, along with his assistant John Nance, were able to wrap it in a plaster cast for preservation. The paleontologists will now be able to use a CT scanner to analyze the cast and determine the exact layout of the prehistoric shark’s mouth, a feat previously unaccomplished by science. After the process is finished, they will be able to place the shark’s skeleton on display.

“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 enthused.

The discovery of the one-of-a-kind skeleton will also allow scientists to compare the snaggletooth shark with a descendant species of the same name that lives in the Pacific.

[Image: S. Godfrey/ Calvert Marine Museum, via WTOP]