A little girl from Maryland got a big surprise for Christmas, but it wasn’t under her tree — it was an ancient fossil hidden underwater.
Alicia Sampson wrote on Facebook that her daughters Molly and Natalie had requested insulated waders for Christmas so they could “go shark tooth hunting like pros.” And as soon as they got the waders, that’s exactly what they did.
“The only thing Molly really wanted for Christmas was some insulated waders because she knew she was missing some good fossil finds further out in the water,” Sampson told CBS News. “…As soon as they finished lunch they put on their waders as fast as they could and headed out to the cliffs with my husband Bruce.”
The weather was freezing and Sampson said it was only 10 degrees outside, but the low tide made it a particularly good day for fossil hunting. For 9-year-old Molly, who said on the way, “I’m looking for a Meg!” the conditions were perfect.
At 10 a.m., she had found a massive, ancient surprise—a megalodon tooth as big as her hand.
“She told me she was wading through knee-deep water when she saw it and dove in to grab it,” Sampson told CBS News. “She said her arms were wet, but it was totally worth it. The look on her face is the only thing that makes me wish I had gone with them because I can’t even imagine the cry that came out of his mouth.”
The family then shared the discovery on Facebook.
“I’m pretty sure Molly feels like this is the best Christmas of her life,” her mom wrote on Facebook. “…That tooth was in the water, so thanks to the waders she got the best part of her gift!”
The family took the tooth to the Calvert Marine Museum, which confirmed the fossil’s identity and shared the exciting news of the “future paleontologist” on Facebook. According to the museum, Molly had taken her find to their paleontology department, but can still keep it to enjoy.
Sampson’s husband, Bruce, has been hunting fossils in the Chesapeake Bay area since he was a child and always dreamed of finding a gigantic tooth, Sampson said. But it wasn’t until his daughter’s Christmas Day that he was able to get his hands on it.
“[Molly] found over 400 teeth in 9 years, ranging from tiny to an inch or two – and now with this one, which is 5 inches,” Sampson said. “…she always wanted to find a ‘Meg,’ but for some reason she said it on Christmas morning.”
Stephen Godfrey, curator of paleontology at the Calvert Marine Museum, told CBS News that the tooth belonged to Otodus megalodon, a now-extinct species of shark that was “one of the largest, if not the largest macropredator sailor the world has ever known”. “
Specifically, the tooth originates from the left side of the shark’s upper jaw, Godfrey said, which is known due to the width of the tooth’s root. Godfrey said the shark that had the tooth would likely have been between 45 and 50 feet long.
“The massive root would have firmly anchored this tooth to the jawbone, allowing the megalodon to bite through any whale or dolphin it could catch,” Godfrey said. “We know it was an active predator because we occasionally find fossilized bones of whales and dolphins that retain marks from toothgouges made by megalodon.”
According to the Australian Museum, this species lived 23 to 3.6 million years ago. According to the museum, they were known to grow to over 66 feet long, about three times the size of a great white.
Last year, scientists were able to create the first 3D model of the massive shark. Using it, the researchers found that the megalodon was able to “cruise at absolute speeds faster than anytoday and fully consume prey the size of modern large predators. The shark, they said, was a “transoceanic superpredator.”
Molly, an aspiring paleontologist, could search for fossils “for hours”, her mother said, although she wants to study fossils in general rather than shark teeth.
“She’s really fascinated by them,” her mother said. “She is also very good at the violin and has said she might want to teach the violin like I do for a living, so she might turn out to be a good mix of her dad and me if she can do both. ‘one way or another.”
Regardless of her future path, Molly’s discovery will always remain a “once-in-a-lifetime discovery,” Godfrey said.
“People shouldn’t get the impression that teeth like this are common along Calvert Cliffs,” he said, adding that Molly found the tooth along a private beach. “…And she didn’t have to dig into the cliffs to find the tooth (which could be dangerous), she was in the water. Her find is wonderful because she is interested in paleontology and that will propel her and others her age to explore science!”