|Shark fossils discovered in Smallin Cave|
During tours of Smallin Cave, guides talk about the history of the Civil War, the Indians, even things from the Ice Age like a recently discovered mastadon tooth. Now, paleontologists say, there's a rare find from a 350 million years ago.
It's an endless treasure of beautiful formations and fossils.
"It seems like every day we see something new," said Smallin Cave owner Kevin Bright.
Hidden in the limestone of Smallin Cave lie clues to the past.
"Of course, here in the Ozarks, we are an ancient inland sea. And all this rock we've got in our caves, the Burlington limestone, was the sediment from that ancient sea," said Bright.
Some of the evidence from that sea look like starfish.
"We've found 13 of those in the ceiling of the cave so far," Bright said.
Other fossils come from a more ferocious sea creature.
"That is the tooth of a shark fossilized in the ceiling of the cave," Bright said.
But the teeth don't tell all.
An even more exciting find lies off the beaten path. It's easier to reach now, with the water in the cave a couple of feet lower than usual.
Bright first saw it a few years ago, but it wasn't until recently that paleontologist Matt Forir of the Missouri Institute of Natural Science unearthed the mystery.
"I just kept looking at it each time, and I took a little brush in here, and some water, and cleaned it off, and we knew immediately what it was. It was fish," Forir said.
Not just any fish, but the spine of an extinct shark.
"What you're thinking is a spine is something that runs along the back. Well, these are the spine that runs along the fin," Forir said.
The shark was probably about three feet long. It's from the genus ctenacanthus, but Forir hasn't found a species like it.
"If it's a new species, then it's the only one in the world documented at this point," said Forir.
It's an exciting clue that leaves us wondering what will come next.
"Not knowing what things are is almost as neat as discovering what they actually are, because the potential is endless," Bright said.
It's yet to be decided whether the shark spine will stay in the cave or be removed to make sure it's preserved, but, in the meantime, folks can see it on Smallin Cave's wild tours.
To learn more about tours of the cave, visit the Smallin Civil War Cave website.