The word fossil has a Latin root meaning of "obtained by digging". Fossils vary in size from microscopic to the giant fossils we are familiar with, such as dinosaurs. In general, fossils preserve partial part of the organism, usually a part that was mineralized during life. In the case of the shark species and other vertebrates, this is generally bones and teeth. Most of the familiar land fossils, such as dinosaur and plant species, are often embedded in a fossil matrix (usually rock or loose sediment). The removal of the fossil from the matrix is accomplished through various techniques usually by experts in the scientific community. Despite differences in the recovery, fossil shark teeth recovered from the ocean require the same diligent preparation for proper display, showing, and study. In this article, I walk you through the fossil shark tooth preparation process for specimens recovered from the ocean while SCUBA diving. The findings that I present are based on my personal recovery and preparation of thousands of fossil shark teeth from the offshore waters of North Carolina.
All of my fossil shark teeth are personally cleaned!
The first step after recovering fossil ocean shark teeth is to stabilize them in fresh water. Although the timeline of geologic deposition has not been established by scientists, I am certain that the teeth recovered have spent a significant amount of time in the harsh and corrosive ocean saltwater environment. By soaking the fossil shark teeth in fresh water you extract the saltwater that has leached in and prevent any damage after the completion of the cleaning process.
The long residence time of fossil shark teeth on the ocean floor have allowed for significant attachment of oysters, barnacles, and other small animal and plant life. The mechanical removal of this growth can be a difficult and time-consuming process and is facilitated by the use of naturally derived acids such as vinegar. This commonplace practice has some criticism; however, through significant experimentation I have developed the idea pH of the natural vinegar solution that does not burn or damage fossil shark teeth.
Although the soak in the vinegar solution assists in the removal of ocean growth, it does not entirely clean the fossil shark tooth. This leads to perhaps the most important process, the CAREFUL tedious mechanical removal of the remaining growth. This process involves tools such as dental picks and wire brushes. After sufficient removal of the growth the fossil shark tooth specimens are carefully placed in a bucket of fresh water. The water is regularly changed as any of the remaining natural acidic solution leaches out of the teeth protecting the fossil for a lifetime of display.
There are numerous ways to display fossil shark teeth. Many of these vary by the individual's taste and preferences, but there is no question that a proper display is bound to entertain friends and guests!
A commonplace practice is the application of oil (e.g. mineral oil, vegetable oil, olive oil, wax, lotion, etc) to the root and blade of the tooth. This trick is used to hide the hydration stresses on the tooth. These hydration flaws are almost always due to using too low of a pH solution to facilitate the cleaning process. It is important to note that the use of any kind of oil is a temporary fix to a dehydrated tooth, and that over time as the oil wears away all the hydration stresses will re-appear.
It is important to ask any seller if they apply any type of oil or wax to their teeth. This should be a red flag of an inferior product!
A great way to display fossil shark teeth is through the creation of jewelry. One of my favorite techniques is wire wrapping, which allows the shark tooth to be displayed as a necklace or as earrings. Another flair is the addition of semi-precious gems and stones which appeal to all sorts of collectors who want to show off their fossil shark tooth.
One of my favorite ways to prepare fossil shark teeth that are missing some or have total enamel peel is through diamond polishing. Diamond polishing is accomplished through the use of a water-cooled polishing machine. This machine uses the earth's hardest substance (diamonds) on multiple wheels that vary in grit sizes from 80 all the way up to 16,000. The resulting tooth is one with spectacular glimmer that is guaranteed to attract attention to the beautiful artistic masterpiece!