The southeastern state of Kentucky isn’t known for its shark population. But 330 million years ago, that might not have been the case.Â
Ecologist Rick Olson and paleontologist Rick ToomeyÂ stumbled upon some unusual fossils preserved in cave walls when they were exploring in Mammoth Cave in National Park KentuckyÂ in November 2019. On closer inspection, they suspected they’d found a large, fossilized shark head. The scientists took photos of the fossils of a shark’s lower jaw, skull cartilage and teeth.Â
TheÂ shark fossil photosÂ eventually got the attention of Maryland-based paleontologistÂ John-Paul Hodnett, who determined that the fossils belonged to a shark species called Saivodus striatus from the LateÂ Mississippian period, dating back to around 330 to 340 million years ago.Â
“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,”Â Hodnett told Louisville Courier JournalÂ on Wednesday. “It’s like finding a missing puzzle piece to a very big picture.”
Hodnet and the other scientists involved in the project will present their findings in October to theÂ Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s annual meetingÂ in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The important thing to note is that finding shark skeletons is very unusual because cartilage rarely survives fossilization. But since sharks replace their teeth often during their lifespans — and the fact that tooth enamel helps the teeth stay preserved –Â shark teeth are very common to find.
Since the initial shark fossils were first discovered, according to Louisville Courier Journal, Hodnett and other scientists have gone back to the cave to discover 100 individual specimens including teeth and dorsal fins of other shark species.Â