It’s like a treasure hunt- looking for gold that’s actually black.
“The bones, the shark teeth, and the mammal teeth that get here on Folly…they’re going to be solid black, as black as charcoal,” says Ashby Gale, paleontologist and owner of Charleston Fossil Adventures.
The characteristic black color is courtesy of phosphate, which also ties into one of the most well known roads in North Charleston.
Alongside the color, fossilization by phosphate gives them plenty of hardiness as teeth are much older than you might think.
“The modern teeth out here on the beach are so rare because there’s a lot of organisms out in the ocean that love to eat away at things made of calcium,” says Gale. “That’s why if you look at a lot of the shell fragments out here. they’re going to be riddled with holes.”
Most modern shark teeth fall to the same fate, but that’s not the case for the fossilized teeth and bones of long extinct animals dating back thousands, even millions of years! They’re remarkably abundant in the Lowcountry, especially at Folly, which up until recently wasn’t the best place to find fossils.
“Prior to 2014, I wouldn’t have led a tour on Folly at all. It was just barren sand. But in 2014 the Army Corps of Engineers did a beach re-nourishment project where they pumped up sediment from about 4 to 5 miles offshore. When they did that they hit a gravel bar of the Goose Creek limestone and pumped up all of these fossils on the beach.”
While many specifically search for those coveted black triangles, there’s a multitude of fossils that can be found here.
Extinct species of whales. Dolphins. Porpoises. Giant sea turtles. Then there’s all the animals that once walked on land that stretched for miles offshore what is now Folly Beach.
“During the Ice Age we had mammoths, mastodons, saber toothed cats, giant beavers, dire wolves… all kinds of incredible animals walking right here on Folly.”
Would I be able to find and identify their fragments of bone and teeth in the sand?
I’ve been duped by many of the look-alikes on the beach which I’ll cover in another Moment of Science, but I can say Gale’s book, “A Beachcombers Guide to Fossils,” has been an incredible resource for figuring out whether or not you hold an ancient fossil in your hand. His 6 years working on it with his parents was well worth it and it comes highly recommended. Gale also leads sustainable fossil expeditions at Folly and across the Lowcountry- for information and booking, head to Charleston Fossil Adventures website.
Storm Team 2 Meteorologist David Dickson