Scientists learn more about shark fossil with cat scan

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE)- A very unique fossil, found recently in the Manzano Mountains, underwent a unique test Friday. The fossil belongs to a shark scientists are calling the Manzano Ctenacanth.

Paleontologist John-Paul Hodnett has waited a year and a half for this, an in-depth look at a 300 million year old fossil he found on a professional field trip in the Manzanos.

“I was cleaning off a piece of shale and I hit this bump and from hitting that bump, I decided, oh, what the heck is this and I peeled it up and it turned out to be this kind of long bone, almost like a limb bone of some kind of reptile or amphibian and I thought, ‘oh, hey, this is cool, this is big,'” Hodnett said. “Then, when we started to dig it up and there was this a-ha moment, ‘oh my gosh, we’ve got this really big shark and we’ve got its whole skull.’ That was a really exciting moment, that’s the great moment of discovery. That’s what keeps people interested and makes people interested in paleontology,” recalls Spencer Lucas. Lucas is the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Curator of Paleontology and Geology.

Ctenacanth2 The bone and rock collected from the Manzano Mountains passes through the scanner allowing scientist to get an in-depth view of Ctenacanth.
The bone and rock collected from the Manzano Mountains passes through the scanner allowing scientist to get an in-depth view of Ctenacanth.

But Hodnett didn’t know just how big his discovery was until Friday. It’s one of the few complete bodies of a Ctenacanth shark fossil ever found and the first found in New Mexico. In fact, Hodnett says it’s a new species of Ctenacanth and the largest to date in the world. Yet, that’s not what has him most excited. It’s the fact he’s able to learn even more about this rare fossil by putting it through a cat scan at Presbyterian Rust Medical Center.

“If we had to cut into the rock and extract the bones, we would inevitably change their shape or damage them or otherwise alter them. So, the cat scan allows us to see anatomy that we would never see,” explains Lucas.

With the scan, Hodnett is able to determine whether this shark is an ancestor to modern sharks or an advanced, primitive shark.

“Oh, there it is. That’s the part I’m looking for. This is an advanced primitive shark, not an ancestor of the modern sharks,” Hodnett exclaims.

Hodnett learns the entire skull is in tact and he couldn’t be more excited.

“I’m still processing what I just saw so, it’s hard for me to describe how I’m feeling,” says Hodnett.

He’s not the only one on the edge of his seat. Lucas calls the fossil world-class and a “game-changer”.

“To me, it’s like owning the Mona Lisa of sharks,” Lucas said.

Hodnett says the next step is to do comparative research to determine the exact relationship between this shark and other sharks like it.

Lucas says the fossil won’t go on display at the museum for at least two years.

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