NewsCovering Kentucky


Scientists report trove of shark fossils in Mammoth Cave

Posted at 3:43 PM, Feb 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-01 16:04:40-05

MAMMOTH CAVE, Ky. (AP) — Paleontologists working at Mammoth Cave National Park say they have discovered shark fossils that include part of a shark head and dorsal fins.

The “Mammoth Cave National Park Fossil Shark Research Project” began when specialists mapping the cave system discovered some fossils, The Courier-Journal reports. They took photos that made their way to John-Paul Hodnett, a paleontologist and program coordinator at Dinosaur Park in Maryland.

"I wasn't exactly sure what I was going to see in the cave during my trip in November," Hodnett said. “When we got to our target specimen my mind was blown."

The fossils were parts of the head of a shark that lived about 330 million years ago. The find includes a lower jaw, skull cartilage and several teeth from a species called "Saivodus striatus" from the Late Mississippian period, Hodnett said.

While shark teeth are one of the most common fossils on the planet, fossils of shark skeletons are uncommon because cartilage does not typically survive fossilization, Hodnett said.

The shark teeth are mostly intact and extremely detailed, and teeth and dorsal fins from other shark species are exposed in the cave ceiling and walls, Hodnett said.

"We've just scratched the surface," Hodnett said. “But already it's showing that Mammoth Cave has a rich fossil shark record.”

The team is planning to present a preliminary account of the project in October at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting in Cincinnati.