Thursday, July 09, 2009

A woman donates shark tooth that belonged to the ancestor of the Great White shark

Diann Barber of Hampton Beach shows off her remarkably preserved shark tooth which she found on the beach and scientists believe came from a 40-million-year-old ancestor of the great white shark. Scott Yates photo. 4-24-09Scott Yates/syates@seacoastonlin

HAMPTON — The woman who found a rare fossilized Great White shark tooth at Hampton Beach has decided to donate what she calls the "find of her lifetime" to the University of New Hampshire.

"What was I going to do with it?" asked 63-year-old Diann Barber, who lives on the beach. "It would just sit in a drawer and I would take it out every once and a while and say 'Oh wow.'"

Hunt Howell of the Coastal Marine Laboratory at UNH accepted the donation of the tooth last week and told Barber the university will use it for educational purposes as well as keep it on display in the Rudman Biological Science Building.

"I just think that is the coolest thing," Barber said. "Now when my kids, grandkids come up I can send them to the university to check out the tooth I found. It's a good feeling to be able to have done that."

Barber called donating the tooth the end of an incredible journey.

She found the fossilized shark tooth several months ago while searching for sea glass along the shore of Hampton Beach.

What appeared to be an odd looking sea shell, she said, turned out to be a tooth of some kind.

"Something made me go back and pick it up," Barber said. "I didn't know what it was.

"You find all kinds of things at the beach you never expect to see — beer tabs, cigarette butts, condoms — but not a shark's tooth?" she said.

After the "find," her husband, Bill Levis, said his wife spent countless hours researching what kind of tooth it was, even asking the advice of a shark expert form the Smithsonian Institution.

"I haven't seen her this excited about something in a long time," said Levis.

David Bohaska at the Smithsonian aided in identifying the tooth by having Robert W. Purdy, a retired museum specialist, who is an expert on fossilized sharks, take a look at it.

"He confirmed that it is carcharodon carcharias, the Great White shark," Bohaska said. "Bob tells me that this species is known from the Miocene Epoch (about 15 million years ago) to the present."

Exactly how old it is and how it got to Hampton Beach is still the question.

Bohaska said it's hard to pinpoint the age of the tooth because Barber found it on the shore. If it was found encrusted in rocks or cliff, it would have been easier to pinpoint a rough time frame.

In general it takes approximately 10,000 years for a tooth to become a true fossil, he said.

Barber said she has enjoyed learning about sharks.

"I called it doing my homework," Barber said. "It was really cool to learn about how long ago it existed and how large the animal was. I'm sad that it's all over.

"I temporarily had it wrapped around my neck because it was kind of a spiritual thing because it is so old and rare," she said. "This was a really cool journey that will be in my heart always. It was a unique experience in my life."

In return for her donation, Barber received a Wildcats sweatshirt and also a mug with a photo of the tooth that she found on it. She also received a nice thank you letter from Howell.

Barber said she still walks the beach every day looking for her next find.

"I doubt that I will find anything as cool as the shark tooth, but you never know," Barber said.

"A lot of people say lightning doesn't strike twice. Well, I know someone who was struck by lighting twice. So who knows?" she said.

"There is always something to find at Hampton Beach," Barber said. "Maybe there is another treasure waiting for me."

June 23, 2009 6:00 AM


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