Scientists Find Fossilized Head Of A 330-Million-Year-Old Shark In A Kentucky Cave

Scientists Find Fossilized Head Of A 330-Million-Year-Old Shark In A Kentucky Cave

The fossilized shark head was discovered at Mammoth Cave, which is known to be the longest known cave system on Earth and extends more than 400 miles.

Researchers have uncovered the remains of a massive, fossilized shark head in Kentucky, reports CBS News. The fossilized shark head was discovered inside the Mammoth Cave National Park. The cave is pretty far away from the ocean but the fossil suggests that the area was once full of sharks. According to the National Park Service, Mammoth Cave is known to be the longest known cave system on Earth and extends more than 400 miles. Scientists have identified the remains of upto 20 different species of sharks inside the deep cave, including the head of a great white-sized monster that was partially protruding from the wall, as per paleontologist John-Paul Hodnett. 


The sharks lived 330 million years ago during an era known as the Late Mississippian geologic time period. Back then, most of North America was under the ocean. After the species was wiped out, their remains were trapped inside the sediments and they eventually became the limestone where the cave formed. Hodnett said, "There's hardly ever any record at all of the shark's teeth coming from these rocks. So that was exciting. So this is a brand new record of sharks from a particular layer of time."  Scientists Rick Olson and Rick Toomey were mapping the Mammoth Caves in a remote part of the caves when they saw the shark fossils, reported Vincent Santucci, a senior paleontologist with the National Park Service.



The photos of their discovery were sent to Hodnett, an expert on Paleozoic sharks. Hodnett works at Maryland's Dinosaur Park, which is a fossil site near Washington, DC, and he supports the research for the National Park Service. Hodnett said that there were quite a few shark teeth in the photos, but he also spotted cartilage, which could be a shark's skeleton. This is considered to be pretty rare since cartilage is softer than bone, it's not often preserved.



When the scientists visited the cave in November, they realized that there was something even bigger. Hodnett said, "It turns out is actually not a skeleton, it is actually just parts of the head. And the head itself is pretty big. In the picture above, you can see a part where the shark's jaw where it would have attached to the skull and the end could probably its chin. The middle jaw is not visible, but he estimated that it would have been about 2 1/2 feet long. After examining the teeth, Hodnett said that he determined that the fossil was part of a species called Saivodus striatus, which is similar to the size of a Great White Shark. 



Hodnett said, "It's super exciting, but not exactly the easiest thing to study. Caves are a very special environment, so it's not ideal to be removing big chunks of rock out of it and damage the internal environment by doing this." Being familiar with the cave was a tricky job on its own as the scientists had to crawl on hands and knees for about a quarter-mile to reach the fossils. 



Hodnett added, "It's gonna be very hard to bring the appropriate equipment in there to properly excavate the specimen out of the cave." Hodnett and team are still studying the fossil specimens that were collected from the cave and they have already learned a lot. Hodnett added, "We literally just scratched the surface, and the sharks are just coming out from that scratch. So, hopefully, with more fieldwork, we'll get another good batch of specimens to kind of help get at least some more rich diversity."

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