what you are viewing is the actual fossilized remains of a tooth that belonged to the shark species Carcharodon Megalodon, or Carcharocles Megalodon, depending on which scientists’ theory you believe. Both of these names refer to the same shark – but those scientists that call the animal Carcharodon Megalodon believe that it was in a group of sharks that eventually produced the modern Great White shark. Those scientists that call it Carcharocles Megalodon believe that the giant fish was in a separate group, called “Giant Whites,” and that it was really the last of the group, leaving no descendants after becoming extinct. In order to put the argument to rest, most scientists have agreed to refer to the animal as C. megalodon, with many laymen referring to the animal as simply “megalodon” or “meg.”
C. megalodon swam the oceans between 1.8 and 24 million years ago, during the Miocene and Pliocene epochs. Because the area where this tooth was found has been dated more accurately, this tooth is actually estimated to be between 20 and 22 million years of age.
Like modern sharks, C. megalodon had many rows of razor-sharp teeth which it used to catch and consume its prey. Experts in the field today believe that C. megalodon looked and acted much like today’s Great White shark, with the exception of its size – C. megalodon could have reached lengths of up to 80 feet! That’s two school busses in length – enough to qualify it as the largest predator to ever exist on planet Earth… Dwarfing even the largest Tyrannosaurus Rex. Experts estimate that this creature could have swallowed a modern-day rhinoceros whole – or accidentally inhaled an entire cow while yawning.
It is believed that C. megalodon had a similar jaw structure as today’s Great White sharks as well – meaning that between 3,000 and 5,000 individual, retractable (like a cat’s claws) teeth graced the mouth of this huge beast, and that the teeth were sort of “conveyored’” – that they grew and quickly replaced old, worn teeth, which would fall out and be broken off during the feeding process. Because of this, it is believed that during the lifetime of C. megalodon, the shark would lose up to 20,000 teeth!
Like today’s sharks, C. megalodon’s skeletal structure was comprised mostly of cartilage – a soft tissue which quickly decayed after the creature died. Thus, the teeth – composed of a hard, bony material – are the only remains of this gigantic beast.
Today, the teeth – long since fossilized by millions of years of dormancy beneath the ocean’s sediments – can be found by the enterprising seeker amongst various rib, vertebrae and bone fragments of C. megalodon’s primary prey – migrating sperm whale.
…Which is where I come in. I am Lew “SeaJay” Bayne, the scuba diver that recovered the fossil that you see here. Finding these beauties takes courage, education, patience and experience. Only when a diver combines all of the above can he be successful in finding a rare gem like this.
The process of finding a meg tooth requires first, of course, a valid scuba diving certification and the knowledge and understanding of diving principles. Once those basics are covered, a diver must adapt to the local waters where these sort of fossils are found – which means high current and zero-visibility waters.
24 million years ago, the ocean was deeper – by about 400 feet. This was primarily due to a warmer climate than today, so the Earth had less ice in its polar caps. The larger amount of liquid water on the planet meant that the oceans were deeper, and shorelines further inland than today’s coastal areas. Manhattan Island did not exist. Arizona had a beach. Florida was completely under water… And the area I dive today was 300-400 feet deeper than it is today… And along a major migratory route for sperm whale. This is why our local area produces these fossils.
Today, our tidal flow, often rising and falling as much as ten feet twice daily, carves and recarves into the marshy soils locally known as the “Lowcountry.” It is this carving and recarving action which allows divers like me to unearth fossils, of which meg teeth are the most valuable. Usually, they are found in small numbers amongst large quantities of bone and bone fragments from ancient sperm whale – who obviously met their demise at the teeth of C. megalodon.
This whole process requires a diver to fully embrace a kind of diving which one would not normally choose to do – that is, muddy, zero-visibility diving in areas that have very high currents. “Tooth hunting” is often jokingly referred to as “mud diving,” “Braille diving,” or “mudpuppying.” It is a less-than-pleasant experience for the most part, and almost always done completely blind, in a claustrophobic style that would make most people’s skin crawl.
My personal style of this sort of diving has developed in the following manner: I take a single scuba tank (back-mounted in an unusual, highly adaptable configuration) with me as I fall backwards overboard my small boat’s gunnels. On hitting the water, sunlight is immediately extinguished and I take the position of a skydiver in the water as I freefall to the bottom of the river. This can take a minute or more, but I can always tell that I’m still descending as ambient pressure increases and squeezes every inch of my body. On the way to the bottom I check gear, which is done completely by feel – hoses in the right places, pockets and tools in the right places, and exhaled bubbles tickling my face and ears after every breath. Involuntarily drifting with the river currents, my mind begins to play tricks in the darkness – there is no sense of movement, even in high current… Only pressure which increases more and more as the seconds tick on.
Again in a weird sense of mental trickery, I land in the mud and muck, which seem to be whipping by at an alarming rate. Immediately I get into a completely prone position and turn to face the current. Often during the descent I have misjudged which way is “up,” and so I must reorient myself. Once I’m stationary, I simply lay on the bottom with the current rushing over me, and consider myself lucky to have not landed on a stingray or other marine animal that could do harm.
Mentally speaking, it can take me 30 seconds or more to situate and begin digging. I usually take this time to clear my ears, make sure that all of my gear made it down with me, and reconsider my plan of attack in finding teeth. Then I take a moment or two, also, to consider the sheer size of the beast which gave up these teeth millions of years ago. The only thing that separates me from the meg is time – which at this moment of utter darkness and helplessness seems too thin a barrier… And I often wonder what related animals loom in the murk, just beyond my sense of touch today. Then I offer silent thanks to the meg for the giving of it’s canines, and consider how lucky I am that C. megalodon isn’t around today for me to meet in person (these things are extinct, right??).
Sometimes if I’m really lucky and can see anything at all, my eyes adjust and darkness can give way to billions of tiny specks of light, rushing at me and hitting my mask and overflowing around me. These are countless microscopic plankton that have within them tiny organs of bioluminescence – like miniature fireflies underwater. As they ebb and flow with the currents, they strike my mask and let off a glow in protest. Looking into the current looks a lot like when a spaceship went into “warp drive” in the movie Star Wars – and I am reminded that I am in a very different world.
I have given up on utilizing lights – even if I could see something, I would be quickly blinded by the silt and waterborne sediments created by digging my hands through the muck and mire. I utilize a method of thrusting a specialized gloved hand through the sediments in a specific pattern which typically results in finding a lot of bone and the occasional meg tooth. Many dives using this method have given me a sort of immediate sense when I hit a tooth, even if only with one finger or an elbow or knee. I don’t know how to describe it – the tooth just feels different than everything else down there.
I always work forward as I dig, facing the current so as to provide a sense of direction, and so that when I leave the bottom and ascend to the surface, I can “catch” my anchored boat as I drift by. I never dive alone, although I have found it impossible to maintain constant contact with my dive buddy due to the complete blackout conditions and the typical bottom topography, which prevents tethered diving. Typical depths can be as shallow as 20 feet, but can reach depths of up to 100 feet. Most often, I’ve found that the 25-foot to 35-foot range yields the fossil bed that holds the teeth of the ancient megalodon, and so the majority of my time is spent in that area.
Fossils can not be found by sight – in fact, a diver in these conditions often finds that he can not even read gauges, so the diver must rely on a “feel” – a sort of “sense” as to how long his tank will last, what his depth is, and where he is on the face of the planet. A diver must also develop a sense as to what his “decompression limits” are, and how much “loading” he has put on his body. The reality is that complex calculations, normally done by most recreational divers via computer, must be done “on the fly” by the tooth-hunting diver in order to maintain a descent safety margin. This type of diving – diving literally by “feel” – both in the sense of safety and in the sense of feeling for the fossils themselves – makes this a dive only for the experienced diver. The fossil-hunting diver must literally know and stay within his limitations while under pressure and feeling into the cold, wet underworld totally blind… In a place where the sun will never shine.
And yes, it’s not uncommon for the “dive by feel” diver to be “felt back” by something alive and a lot less human. Almost every dive, a diver in these conditions experiences grabbing – and being grabbed by – a variety of crabs and other crustaceans, stingray and flounder (which suddenly dart off into the darkness when touched, leaving the diver to try to restart his heart)… Not to mention the occasional run-in with a variety of species of sharks, dolphin (who will bump you and make noises so loud that you’d swear they are squawking right through you) and even salt-water crocodiles and alligators. On more than one occasion I have been “snuggled up to” by a nurse shark or bumped and investigated by a reef shark curious to see whether or not I could be considered food. Doing this sort of diving is not for the meek – or tasty.
On a good day, when I have prepared myself mentally and spiritually, maintained all of my wits, patience, skills and gear, and have had cooperative weather and tidal flows – and on the day where I can correctly guess where the tides are “cutting into” the earth such that new fossils will be exposed at the right depth – I can find a dozen or more fossilized meg teeth. These I recover in a mesh diver’s bag, and I bring them home for preparation to sell to you, the true connoisseurs of paleontology. After I have refueled the boat (and cleaned it and put it away), refilled my tanks, cleaned all of my gear and refueled myself (sleep and food) from being underwater for eight hours or more, I work to preserve the teeth.
Fossils are generally soaked in freshwater for about a week to desalinize the subsurface of the tooth. They are then dried for another week. I then use a modified lathe equipped with a specialized metal alloy brush to remove whatever sediments and marine life is on the surface of the tooth. I then follow up the cleaning process with a high speed polishing wheel and a little jeweler’s rouge to bring the tooth to a nice shine. Of course, all of this must be done in a specific manner and with moderation in order to produce a clean, attractive fossil without damage caused by the cleaning and polishing process. Basically, this means that the tooth should be cleaned and polished as little as possible, but with just enough work to give the tooth the attractive luster that tells people that they have something really special.
…And from there, the tooth goes to you. Keep in mind how special the item you have in your possession really is – what you hold in your hand is truly an item that has been millions of years in the making, just for you. It existed before you, before your grandfather, and before your grandfather’s grandfather. It existed before Jesus walked the Earth, and it existed before the Great Pyramids were built. It existed before the wheel was invented and it existed before first word was spoken. It existed before the first human walked the planet. In fact, it’s been here some 400 times longer than the human race has existed. It is probably the oldest thing you’ll ever hold in your hand – and yet, it is immediately recognizable by anyone who beholds it.
Truly, this is a priceless artifact – and yes, it is very authentic. Enjoy.