Charles H. Sternberg
The sharks of Kansas
Popular Science News 34:38.
Copyright © 2004-2009 by Mike Everhart
ePage created 11/09/2004;
last updated 07/11/2009
Wherein Charles H. Sternberg describes two species of sharks found in the Smoky Hill Chalk of western Kansas.
See more about Charles H. Sternberg here.
|38 POPULAR SCIENCE February, 1900|
The Sharks of Kansas.
In 1891, while conducting an expedition in the Chalk of Western Kansas for the Palaeontological Museum of Munich, under the direction of Dr. Von Zittel, its famous director, I discovered in the chalk of Hackberry Creek, Gove Co., some very small flattened disks, slightly hi-concave, that were in their original position. With pick and shovel, I removed the loose material above the floor in which the skeleton lay buried.
As I continued my labor and got further into the bluff beyond the action of frost, the rock became harder and to my great delight, after I had swept the floor, I found a continuous line of these disks, beginning near the end of the tail, where they were about a quarter of an inch wide, increasing in size to the region of the neck, where they were four inches wide. Then, owing to the angle of pressure, they became narrower and thicker. The occipital condyle was attached to the peculiar bones of the skull. These bones were very different from those of bony fishes, as if in old age bony material had been deposited in the cartilage of which the skeletons of sharks are composed. The great plates that evidently covered the roof and floor of the mouth were armed with horrid teeth, arranged in concentric rows, the larger ones measuring about two inches in length from the lance-like point to end of root. The cutting edges were smooth and sharp as a knife, and must have proved a terrible machine, when the vise-like jaws closed upon an unfortunate victim that this torment of other life of his day had captured.
I fully understood also, that I had made a discovery that would gratify the scientific world. As I believed then and still believe, such a specimen of a fossil shark was never seen before or since, The great German museum in which many of our ablest paleontologists, Cope, Marsh, Baur, and a host of others have studied, is justly proud of this specimen, which is full 25 feet long, with 250 teeth, chiefly in or near their original position. This fact is shown by the careful study and research bestowed upon it and kindred forms, by Mr. Chas. R. Eastman, whose inaugural address before the faculty of Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich, for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, were published in Stuttgart in 1894, describing this now famous shark, Oxyrhina mantelli of Agassiz. Forty-two pages of text are devoted to the results of his study.
|The value of
such discoveries will be appreciated when we realize that the cartilaginous skeletons of
sharks decay before petrifaction can take place; consequently the forms and structure of
fossil sharks can only be guessed at. The teeth in great numbers strew the old ocean beds
for countless ages. It will be noticed that only the centra of vertebræ and plates of the
skull were discovered, no arches or spines or other parts of the skeleton. The soft spongy
centra had been crushed nearly flat by the pressure of the heavy strata above. These disks
had been noticed and collected years ago by us early explorers in the Kansas Chalk; but we
were unable to place them where they belonged until a lucky find of fragments bearing
Since 1891 I have searched carefully for another individual, but loose and scattered teeth or centra of vertebræ were the only rewards I received, This season, however, I have been again favored by the discovery of 17 continuous vertebræ connected with the peculiar bones of the skull, and the teeth-bearing plates below. They were preserved in disintegrated chalk, crossed by seams of gypsum, the bones broken into fragments. I found 17 of these fragments bearing teeth, and many others from which the teeth had fallen out. As I believe I have saved all the pieces, the ossified part of the skull can be restored.
This will prove, also, of great interest to science, as this specimen belonged to another genus from the one mentioned above. The teeth are broad and flat, slightly recurved, with delicately serrated edges And it represents, I believe, the second best specimen so far taken from the Chalk of Kansas, or the Niobrara Group of the Cretaceous. These teeth range in size from less than ¼ to 7/8 of an inch across the roots, one measuring 1 1/8 inches from recurved point to end of opposite root. There are 132 teeth preserved, some so small as to be hardly visible, others quite large; some are evidently young ones. These beautiful teeth during life must have been used with scissor-like action, cutting the living prey finer then any modern meat-cutter.
I judge from the cervical vertebræ (the disks measuring 2 1/2 inches across), this species must have been nearly as large as the Munich specimen.
CHAS. H. STERNBERG.
Other resources regarding sharks on Oceans of Kansas:
Kansas Sharks - A photographic essay of shark teeth from the Lower Permian to the Upper Cretaceous.
Cretoxyrhina and Squalicorax - Commonly found shark teeth in the Smoky Hill Chalk
A REALLY Big Ginsu Shark - Discovered in 2002 in western Kansas
Cretoxyrhina mantelli - The Ginsu Shark - The biggest shark in the Western Interior Sea
Sharks feeding on mosasaurs - Parts is parts and pieces are pieces.
More on sharks?? See Jim Bourdon's The Life and Times of Long Dead Sharks - "Elasmo.com"
A Moment in Time - Shark Predation on Mosasaurs ---- Even mosasaurs were shark food...
One Day in the Western Interior Sea..... Watch out! Life could be very short for the unwary.
Ptychodontid Sharks: Late Cretaceous Shell Crushers
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