Toothy sharks once ruled Tuscany

By | May 30, 2009

Image: Toothy sharkSome three million years ago, eel-like sharks snaked through the region that now supports Tuscany’s finest vineyards, suggest fossils recently found in the clay soil of the Chianti region.

Hundreds of fossilized teeth belonging to primitive shark-like creatures have been uncovered by amateur paleontologists near the village of Castelnuovo Berardenga, not far from Siena.

“It all started in 2001. We were poking around the Crete Senesi (in the Tuscany region), in a landscape made of green vine waves and ridges of clay, when we saw a tooth cropping out of the soil,” Simone Casati, president of the Mineralogy and Paleontology Group of Scandicci, told Discovery News.

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“Since then, we have found an exceptional number of fossilized fish teeth from the Pliocene epoch. Indeed, about three million years ago, before the sea started to retreat to its current location some 100 kilometers (62 miles) away, the site was a sort of underwater canyon populated by hundreds of deep-water creatures,” Casati said.

Studied by Franco Cigala Fulgosi, from the Department of Earth Sciences of Parma University, the teeth turned out to belong to Chlamydoselachus lawleyi, a species which strongly resembles the living frilled shark Chlamydoselachus anguineus.

With a snake-like body, flat head and large toothy mouth, the shark has changed little since prehistoric times. Like primitive sharks, it has six gills, whereas most modern sharks have five.

Living at depths of about 2,000 feet, these five-foot sharks seem to prefer the cold waters of deep and upwelling regions. Making great vertical migrations at night, they have been often captured in Japan’s Suruga Bay.

“The teeth unearthed in Tuscany belong to a species which differs from the living frilled shark only by its larger size,” Cigala Fulgosi, an authority on fossil sharks, told Discovery News. “The teeth suggest an animal approximately 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) in length.”

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Wasn’t there something like this in The Princess Bride?

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