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How the discovery of a 30 million-year-old shark tooth reminds us to make every mile count

Wynn Johnson holding his favorite finds from a 3/4 day Fossil Kayaking Adventure. Included are a 2.5 inch and 4.125 inch tooth from the precursor to megalodon, Carcharocles angustidens.

A fossil "hey" from CFA --

Our journey starts during the summer of 2019 when the Johnson Family booked a 3/4 day Fossil Kayaking Adventure with us. Wynn Johnson, his brother, father, and future fiancé enjoyed a scenic paddle to a remote island where they collected fossils dating upwards of 30 million years. Wynn's younger brother had two great finds of a flawless Carcharocles angustidens tooth, as well as a perfect Parotodus benedeni -- an uncommon species to find in the Lowcountry.

As with most clients, we didn't hear from the Johnson family after their trip. Months passed, then another booking came in from Wynn for January of 2020, again for the 3/4 day Fossil Kayaking Adventure. On the day of the Adventure, Wynn shared the reason why he booked a second trip: Miles, who was 16 at the time, had passed away in October. To celebrate Miles' life, Wynn was returning to the fossil site where they had collected fossils together just six months earlier.

Suddenly, the significance of collecting fossils that day increased ten-fold.

From left to right: Miles Johnson, Mark Johnson, Wynn Johnson, and Isabel Miles on their July 2019 Fossil Adventure.

Miles Johnson was a "very smiley guy, whose smiles were infectious" to everyone. Miles loved rock climbing, solving Rubik's Cubes (in under 30 seconds!), hunting for shark teeth, and building creations out of Lego. Prior to their trip with CFA, the Johnsons had only collected teeth along public beaches, so the 3/4 day Fossil Kayaking Adventure really took their collection to the next level.

Hunting for shark teeth was a bond that Miles and Wynn shared.

As he returned to collect with us in January of 2020, there was nothing more that we wanted for Wynn than for him to find a "trip-worthy tooth," especially given the circumstances of his return to this specific locality.

"I remember looking over and being like, 'Woah, that is a big tooth!'"

Nothing could have prepared us for the tooth that washed out from the 30 million-year-old sediment that day. The Ashley Formation, which is known for its beautiful juvenile Carcharocles angustidens teeth, rarely holds teeth from adults, which exceed 75 mm (2.95 inches), making Wynn's discovery of a 105 mm (4.125 inch) C. angustidens tooth all the more spectacular! [Miller et al., 2020]

While Wynn's tooth is incredibly large, we were disappointed at the damage that the tooth had incurred. At the time, we assumed the fractures were caused by someone who was illegally digging and sifting material at the site.

Next to the tooth was an 8 foot-long trench filled with soupy sediment. And scratches on the tooth certainly supported the suspected shovel or rake-inflicted damage.

Months later, we discovered the true cause of damage: a boat propeller. (CFA owner, Ashby Gale, recently bought a boat and created a similar trench when the propeller wasn't lifted up soon enough.)

Though the damage is unfortunate, we also have the boat propeller to thank for the tooth's discovery; without another boater's faux-pas, this tooth would still be under several inches of limestone, awaiting discovery.

As Ashby looked at the broken corner, a ridiculous notion crossed his mind: since that break appeared to be recent, there was a chance -- albeit a slim one -- that the broken piece could be found. With no promises made, Ashby told Wynn that he'd keep his eyes out for the missing cusplet, and contact Wynn if it was recovered.

Against all odds, it was over 4 weeks later when to Ashby's amazement, he was holding the corner of a large C. angustidens root lobe, with a sizable cusplet attached to it. The preservation was a dead match to Wynn's tooth.

Immediately after the discovery of the missing cusplet, the world shut down from the COVID-19 spread during March of 2020.

We patiently waited to reunite cusplet with tooth...their separation would have to be prolonged until it was safe to meet in person again.

At last, in June of 2021, we were able to mate these two pieces back together, and the fit was perfect!

This tooth is more than just a shark tooth. This tooth is more than just a story about the impossible odds of finding a missing cusplet. This tooth is a reminder that life is fleeting. Before being shed out of the shark's mouth, this tooth likely served its owner for a couple weeks. Two weeks, and then it was lost forever to the bottom of the seafloor.

This tooth is a reminder that our time on this Earth is limited; and to cherish that time, we must make our Miles count.


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