Do not fear. I’m not tricking you! This isn’t a lump of your finest Plaster of Paris. This is a cast of a real fossil. Sweet goodness me, this is one mother of a bad cast.
The nearest thing this looks like that could be a fossil is a scallop shell. In fact, it belongs to a creature that would have fed on scallops for lunch.
Some of you may have recognised that this is a cast of a very old type of shark tooth. Dont worry if you didn’t. I didn’t until I read the old label. It was purchased on April 10th 1901. (Yes – this cast has some information with it!). The card also says “plaster cast of tooth (white)”. I’m pleased they wrote that extra bit of useful information on the old label. I wouldnt have known otherwise.
I still do really wonder why some of these casts in museum collections were never painted. (Mind you, as we have seen, the ones that were are bloody awfully painted!)
There was a little more information on the label. The tooth is from an ancient shark called Ptychodus, and it says from the Cretaceous Period of Kent. That’s quite a lot of information for this terrible cast. It is actually a bizarre tooth that you wouldn’t think of as a shark (click here for nice images of real fossils!).
This somewhat modest cast hides a much more exciting history of this strange animal. Ptychodus is an Genus of shell crushing sharks, which are all now extinct. Yes. Shell crushing. Not all sharks were ferocious hunters who prey on surfers, or run down old fishing boats with three drunk men singing ‘Show me the way to go home’. Good times.
Sharks are cool creatures. There are over 400 species of sharks in the waters today, and there were some incredible ones which have lived in the past. They are the epitome of the perfect predator. Their stealth, their terrifying teeth and jaws, and apparent ruthlessness sums them up for many people, and will account for our unreasonable fear of these majestical animals. Sharks have their origins a long, long time ago, during the Silurian Period (around 420 million years ago). Since then, they have evolved into massive predators, such as the enormous and infamous Carcharodon megalodon (popularly known as Megalodon) to strange species that swam around eating and crushing shells.
The owner of this beautiful cast was swimming around in the waters while Tyrannosaurus rex was stomping around on land with his colourful feathers trying to woo a mate. There were quite a few different species of Ptychodus sharks, (A lot of lovely information about the different species can be found here.)
This was a big shark. It could grow as long as two Black Cabs (around 10m long!). It is more than likely that this shark stayed along the coast line where it could easily find shellfish in the shallow depths. It’s enormous, ribbed teeth would have ground up a scallop or an oyster with ease!
There is no evidence it ate vertebrates (animals with backbones). But there were bigger things in the seas during the Cretaceous Period (145-65million years ago), including the large mosasaurs, and the fast and elegant ichthyosaurs. These marine reptiles may have fed on these shell loving sharks.
This cast doesn’t really give us much to look at. It doesn’t jump out and tell you what it is. It’s a strange ball of plaster, with a couple of ribs on the top. It is amazing to think, that it was cast from a real fossil tooth. An extinct shell crushing shark tooth! Pretty awesome! Just a shame the cast is so darn bad.