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9-year-old plucks 15-million-year-old shark tooth from Maryland waters

Molly Sampson, 9, found a huge megalodon tooth while searching for fossils on Christmas at Maryland's Calvert Cliffs State Park. (Courtesy of Alicia Sampson)

Molly Sampson, 9, and her older sister, Natalie, 17, wanted insulated chest waders so they could go shark-tooth hunting “like professionals.”

When their wish came true on Christmas morning, they headed to Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs State Park with their father, wading deep into the water to hunt for fossils — a favorite family activity.

That’s when Molly, a budding paleontologist, made a rare discovery: a five-inch tooth, as big as her hand, that once belonged to a now-extinct megalodon shark that lived millions of years ago.

“Molly has been searching for a meg because she knows how big they can be, and also how rare they are,” her mother, Alicia Sampson, said in an email to The Washington Post. She added that her husband, Bruce, has hunted teeth for decades and inspired the girls to do the same. Molly, she said, has a collection of more than 400 teeth. “Molly has literally been sharks tooth hunting since she could walk on the beach.”

The family took Molly’s ancient finding to the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, Md., so it could be assessed by experts from the paleontology department. Staff there are familiar with the family, who live close by and have been sharing their findings for years with Stephen Godfrey, curator of paleontology at the museum.

Godfrey said in an interview Wednesday that he was impressed by Molly’s most recent find, which he said once belonged to the species known as Otodus megalodon. Godfrey, by analyzing the tooth and age of the sediment where it was discovered, concluded that the tooth is probably around 15 million years old and probably came from a shark between 45 and 50 feet long.

“Megalodon teeth are found on a fairly regular basis along Calvert Cliffs, however one that large are rare indeed,” Godfrey said, adding that just a handful are found each year. “I was very happy for Molly because I have known for some time now that she is passionate about becoming a paleontologist, and her find may well seal the deal.”

The size of the tooth’s root serves as proof that the tooth is from the upper left side of the shark’s jaw, Godfrey said, noting that the large root would have “anchored the tooth firmly to the jaw, so that this massive macro-predator would have been able to bite through any whale or dolphin that it was able to catch.”

Molly’s family says she spoke her finding into existence. “I’m looking for a meg!” Molly exclaimed as she headed for the water, her mother said. By 10 a.m., Molly had plucked the giant megalodon tooth from the water.

Molly’s find on Christmas is actually the sixth megalodon tooth she has found, her mother said, but this one is “definitely the biggest.”

On social media, fellow fossil hunters said they have been looking for such a find “for years and years,” while others hailed Molly’s discovery as “amazing” and “incredible.” Some even said the 9-year-old had inspired them to start hunting for ancient artifacts in their spare time.

As interest around the giant tooth swirled, the marine museum took to Instagram on Tuesday to reassure people that Molly would of course be able to keep the tooth — which the family is keeping a close eye on.

“We haven’t really let her take it out much, other than her favorite cafe,” Alicia Sampson said, adding that the tooth is being kept in a special display case where Molly stores her findings.

These include teeth from snaggletooth, lemon, mako, silky, sand tiger and great white sharks. Smaller jars, Sampson said, are used to keep smaller teeth found by the sisters.

Godfrey noted that such a find holds monetary value, though he highly doubts Molly will want to sell it. “Molly will never sell her find because the life-affirming value it holds is priceless,” he joked.

Molly’s mother was inclined to agree. “I am sure she will always keep it with her — to her, this tooth is priceless!” Sampson said.

Is Molly enjoying her newfound fame? Sampson said the 9-year-old is rather shy — but hopes her story will show other children “how fun it is to explore.”

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