Mid-Ohio Valley man amasses collection of megalodon teeth
PARKERSBURG — He’s going to need a bigger boat.
Greg Smith of the Henderson Wilds has a massive collection of megalodon teeth that numbers in the thousands.
“It’s a huge collection,” Smith said.
Megalodons, which lived more than 20 million years ago, were gigantic sharks that grew more than 60 feet long. The creatures became extinct about 2.6 million years ago, possibly because of the cooling of the oceans and temperature fluctuations with which megalodons could not cope, according to eartharchives.org.
The food supply moved to cooler waters where megalodons couldn’t survive and the creatures starved, Smith said.
But is it safe to go into the water?
“The Meg,” to be released in theaters on Aug. 10, is a science fiction movie about a 75-foot megalodon that appears off the coast of China and causes terror. The movie stars Jason Statham and is based on the series of novels by Steve Alten.
The movie and series like “Shark Week” on Discovery have intensified the interest in megalodon teeth, Smith said.
“Around the world megalodon teeth have become a huge collectors item,” he said.
Henderson Wilds customer Nathan Lamp purchased a tooth for his son, Brady, 9.
“It was the highlight of his day, that’s for sure,” Lamp said.
The tooth sparked an interest in his son of extinct megalodons and sharks, Lamp said.
“His favorite movie of all time is ‘Jaws,'” Lamp said. “The old-line ‘Jaws.'”
Smith, the former community relations director at Camden Clark Medical Center, became interested in megalodons about two years ago. He was trying to come up with an activity for him and his grandson, Eli.
“I was trying to think of something that was good for grandpa and grandson,” Smith said.
Smith sent his grandson a note to research megalodons and report back.
“He said ‘Grandpa, it’s a huge shark with a mouth as big as a garage,'” Smith said. “So I sent him a tooth with a stand and he loved it.”
So started Smith’s interest in collecting fossilized megalodon teeth. The collection of teeth, many of which are for sale at the Henderson Wilds on West Virginia 14 south of Williamstown, has grown into the thousands.
Smith works with divers who find the teeth.
After millions of years, the color of the fossilized teeth depends on the sediment on the ocean floor, he said. Black fossils in his collection were found off the coast of Georgia while the lighter beige or brownish teeth were found off the Carolinas, Smith said.
A tooth is evaluated in several areas including condition, size, shape, color and restoration, he said. Some of his fossils are polished, but most are only cleaned with vinegar and water, Smith said.
Smith doesn’t collect restored or altered teeth that are molded or have enamel or root replaced with other materials. Restored teeth are far less collectible than natural teeth, he said.
“Big deal for collectors,” he said.
Much of the value of the tooth is based on its size, he said. A tooth with a length of more than 6 inches, measured with a Vernier caliper from the top of the root to the tip, are valued in the thousands of dollars if both sides of the tooth are the same length, Smith said.
Museum-quality teeth will show a distinct and intact gum line, called the bourrelet, he said. The enamel and the serrations on the tooth will be preserved in a museum-quality tooth, Smith said.
The serrations served the primary function of the tooth, which was to slice through everything, Smith said. Megalodons did not chew their food into bits, he said.
“They swallowed it whole,” Smith said.
Collecting has been worth it, both for him and his grandson, Smith said. School children find the teeth fascinating, he said.
“My grandson has learned a lot,” Smith said. “And I’ve learned a lot.”