My name is Beth and I’m the Assistant to the Executive Director and I’ve been at Stratford Hall for two-and-a-half years. One afternoon, not long after I began working here, a co-worker of mine asked me if I wanted to go down to the beach and search for shark teeth. This small excursion was the beginning of an amazing new hobby for me.
About 15 million years, during the Miocene Epoch, the cliffs at Stratford Hall were under water, providing a great habitat for large marine animals. As natural changes in the earth progressed, the cliffs were formed, leaving shark teeth, along with other fossils, preserved in the sediment. Natural erosion exposes the fossils to rain and wind that carry them down to the beach. It’s important to remember that the cliffs of the Potomac are not very stable so we need to do all we can to preserve them by not touching or digging in the cliffs and only allowing natural erosion to expose the fossils so generations to come can continue to enjoy this resource.
Walking along the shoreline, I’ve picked up as many as 15 shark teeth in an hour. Shark teeth are the most common type of fossil found on site because sharks have thousands of teeth that they consistently lose. Most sharks have about five rows of teeth and, when one is lost or damaged, it is replaced by a tooth in the following row. Another reason teeth are so commonly found is that, although the rest of the body might decompose, enamel is an easily fossilized substance.
The thing I find the most fascinating is the wide variety of colors of teeth. This has nothing to do with the type of shark. The coloring is actually caused by the localized minerals in the water and can include black, yellow, orange, grey and blue teeth. My favorite shark tooth that I have found, even though it’s not the biggest, is the rusty orange and grey mako shark tooth. Its coloring is the most unique in my collection.
Spotting shark teeth is not an easy thing for everyone. Train your eyes to search for dark triangle-shaped objects. Once you find yourself easily picking up shark teeth, you can learn and search for the other types of fossils found on the Potomac, and then other areas in Virginia and the mid-Atlantic region. I hope you all get to experience hunting for these unique treasures and maybe you too will find yourself with a new lifelong hobby.
All of these pictures are teeth that I found along the shoreline at Stratford Hall.