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Cache of 80-million-year-old shark teeth found in Solomon-era site in Jerusalem

Researchers say 29 teeth unearthed at City of David come from animals that lived alongside dinosaurs, were brought to Judean capital, and may have been part of collection

A fossilized Squalicorax tooth found in an archaeological dig in Jerusalem's City of David (© Omri Lernau)
A fossilized Squalicorax tooth found in an archaeological dig in Jerusalem's City of David (© Omri Lernau)

Archaeologists have uncovered a mysterious stash of 80-million-year-old fossilized shark teeth at a 2,900-year-old site in Jerusalem’s City of David.

According to findings published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, the 29 teeth are from animals that lived during the Late Cretaceous period, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth.

Researchers used strontium and oxygen isotope dating techniques and X-ray diffraction and trace element analysis to establish the age and origin of the teeth.

The team that dated the teeth does not know how they came to Jerusalem, but says it is clear they were transported there by people, and may have been part of a collection.

The site where they were found, an excavated house called “Rock Cut Pool,” in which fish bones and other waste materials were found, dates to the time of King Solomon.

“They were probably valuable to someone, we just don’t know why,” said lead researcher Thomas Tuetken of the University of Mainz in Germany, presenting the work this week at the Goldschmidt Conference.

“They were not simply weathered out of the bedrock beneath the site, but were probably transported from afar, possibly from the Negev, at least 80 kilometers away, where similar fossils are found,” he said.

The shark teeth that have been identified came from several species, including from the extinct Late Cretaceous group Squalicorax.

Artist’s impression of a Squalicorax shark (Dmitry Bogdanov / Wikipedia)

“We had at first assumed that the shark teeth were remains of the food dumped nearly 3,000 years ago, but when we submitted a paper for publication, one of the reviewers pointed out that one of the teeth could only have come from a Late Cretaceous shark that had been extinct for at least 66 million years. That sent us back to the samples, where measuring organic matter, elemental composition, and the crystallinity of the teeth confirmed that indeed all shark teeth were fossils,” Tuetken explained.

He said the isotope dating “confirmed that all 29 shark teeth found in the City of David were Late Cretaceous fossils — contemporary with dinosaurs.”

As well as uncovering fish bones and pottery samples at the “Rock Cut Pool” in the City of David, archeologists found hundreds of bullae used to seal confidential letters and packages, along with the shark teeth.

Since the first finds last year, the team has found other shark teeth fossils elsewhere in Israel, at the Maresha and Mikneh sites, Tuetken said, adding that they were also likely to have been unearthed and moved from their original locations.

“Our working hypothesis is that the teeth were brought together by collectors, but we don’t have anything to confirm that,” he said.

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