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The Mysterious Prehistoric Shark Teeth Found in a Jerusalem Basement

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

In a nearly 3,000-year-old basement in the City of David scientists have unearthed a perplexing cache of 80-million-year-old fossilized shark teeth.

Candida Moss

Jerusalem is known for many things: for the Temple Mount, for the Mount of Olives, for being the location for the death of Jesus and the setting for violent crusades, for dozens of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim pilgrimage sites and, now, for prehistoric shark teeth. In a nearly 3,000-year-old basement in the City of David scientists have unearthed a mysterious cache of 80-million- year-old fossilized shark teeth. How the fossils got so far inland is currently unknown. Barring an ancient Sharknado event, someone must have moved them.

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In a presentation at the Goldschmidt Conference, archaeologist Dr. Thomas Tuetken of the Institute of Geosciences at the University of Mainz, said that the shark teeth were found among a collection of debris and discarded material that were used to fill in the lowest level of an Iron-Age house in the Palestinian village of Silwan (what was once the City of David). As reported by Heritage Daily, the teeth were found with food waste and pottery shards from a period that dates just after the death of the biblical King Solomon.

Initially, the archeologists thought that the teeth were just waste from food preparation. It was only when a reviewer prompted them to revisit the evidence that they realized that the remains came from a Late Cretaceous shark that had been extinct for at least 66 million years. Further scientific testing performed by the team revealed, said Tuetken, that all 29 shark teeth found in the City of David were Late Cretaceous fossilscontemporary with the dinosaurs. The strontium isotope composition of the teeth suggests an age of about 80 million years.

The question at that point was, how did the teeth get there? Tuetken notes that they were almost certainly transported to the region, possibly from the Negev, at least 80 km away, where similar fossils have been found. The teams working hypothesis is that the teeth were brought together by collectors There are no wear marks which [had they been present] might show that they were used as tools, and no drill holes to indicate that they may have been jewelry. We know that there is a market for shark teeth even today, so it may be that there was an Iron Age trend for collecting such items. The 10th century BCE was a period of economic development and flourishing in Judea. Collecting is a wealthy persons hobby: that the teeth were discovered alongside administrative bullae (the seals used to secure and authenticate ancient correspondence) further supports this theory. We dont have anything to confirm that, cautioned Tuetken, its too easy to put 2 and 2 together to make 5. Well probably never really be sure.

While it tends not to provide anatomical descriptions, the Bible has more than its fair share of sea monsters. In the book of Jonah the protagonist is famously swallowed whole by a big fish while trying to evade Gods prophetic call. The story sounds absurd but was mirrored by an incident last month when Cape Cod lobster diver Michael Packard was briefly swallowed by a humpback whale and lived to tell the tale. In the 19th century the story of a modern day Jonah went viral when a man named James Bartley was allegedly eaten by a sperm whale only to be cut out of the creatures stomach alive 36 hours later.

The most terrifying biblical sea creature, however, is Leviathan, an enormous sea monster referenced in Psalmody, by the prophets Amos and Isaiah, and in the book of Job. According to some Leviathan was a sea serpent but some Jewish traditions refer to it as a dragon or just a monster. A popular 19th-century theory speculated that it was a crocodile. According to the Rabbinic text Baba Bathra 75 Leviathan will be killed and eaten at the banquet that takes place at the end of time (the rest of it gets hung on the wall). Other Jewish legends about Leviathan preserved in rabbinic texts include the idea that it can make the waters of the ocean boil, smells dreadful, and is afraid of a small worm that gets in the gills of fish and kills them.

Though almost no sharks stalk the waters of the Mediterranean today, its easy to see why ancient Israelites would collect their teeth. For centuries human- eating sea monsters dominated the imagination of ancient peoples, who saw them as inherently terrifying. What better testimony to the triumph of human ingenuity could there be than to collect their most fearsome attributes?

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