An international team of archaeologists has found multiple fossil shark teeth within Iron Age cultural layers dating to 8-9th century BCE in the City of David, Jerusalem, Israel.
“These fossils are not in their original setting, so they have been moved,” said Dr. Thomas Tuetken, a researcher in the Institute of Geosciences at the University of Mainz.
“They were probably valuable to someone. We just don’t know why, or why similar items have been found in more than one place in Israel.”
The fossil teeth are approximately 80.3 million years old (Late Cretaceous epoch), and belong to several shark species, including the extinct Late Cretaceous group Squalicorax.
“Squalicorax, which grew to between 2 and 5 m (6.6-16.4 feet) long, lived only during the Late Cretaceous, so acts as a reference point in dating these fossils,” the scientists said.
The fossil teeth were encountered in the same Iron Age cultural layers together with a wide diversity of archaeological fish originating from the Mediterranean Sea and the Nile.
They clearly do not represent food remnants although their use remains elusive. It may be they were brought to the city intentionally as the nearest fossil shark teeth bearing outcrops of Cretaceous age are situated in the Negev Desert, although similar aged layers also crop out near the City of David.
Intriguingly, the fossils were found together with hundreds of bullae — items used to seal confidential letters and packages — implying a possible connection with the administrative or governing class at some point.
“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 the one of the teeth could only have come from a Late Cretaceous shark that had been extinct for at least 66 million years,” Dr. Tuetken said.
“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.”
“Their strontium isotope composition indicates an age of about 80 million years.”
“This confirmed that all 29 shark teeth found in the City of David were Late Cretaceous fossils, contemporary with dinosaurs.”
“More than that, 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 km (50 miles) away, where similar fossils are found.”
“Our working hypothesis is that the teeth were brought together by collectors, but we don’t have anything to confirm that,” he said.
“There are no wear marks which might show that they were used as tools, and no drill holes to indicate that they may have been jewelry.”
“We know that there is a market for shark’s teeth even today, so it may be that there was an Iron Age trend for collecting such items. This was a period of riches in the Judean Court.”
The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.
Thomas Tütken et al. Strontium and Oxygen Isotope Analyses Reveal Late Cretaceous Shark Teeth in Iron Age Strata in the Southern Levant. Front. Ecol. Evol, published online December 17, 2020; doi: 10.3389/fevo.2020.570032
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