Ancient Shark Fossils Discovered in Morocco’s Anti-Atlas Mountains  

Phoebodus, Ancient Shark Discovered

A groundbreaking shark fossil discovery was announced on October 3, 2019. The news spoke about the findings of an international paleontologist team that went exploring in the Maïder region of Morocco’s Anti-Atlas Mountains; these mountains extend from the Atlantic Ocean (southwest) towards Ouarzazate (Northeast) and are bordered by the Sahara Desert (South). The team came across several skulls and parts of the Phoebodus species. The fossil they found was 4 feet (1.2 meters) long and is estimated to have lived up to 370 million years ago. It’s features finished developing in an early part of the Carboniferous period. “I’ve spent a career looking for new species, but I’ve never come across anything quite like this,” said one of the researchers. The finding is extraordinary because shark skeletons have soft tissues and their fossils are rarely preserved.

The Anti Atlas area the fossil was discovered in was once shallow sea basin with low levels of oxygen. This meant that bacteria and animals stayed away from feeding off the Phoebodus’ carcass.

All scientists around the world are excited. “The quantity of data that is emerging from studies such as this is staggering. We are experiencing a renaissance of anatomy,” said John Maisey, a paleontologist with the American Museum of Natural History.

Previously the ancient shark had only been identified from its three teeth and fin spines. The new evidence suggests it has an eel-like body plan and attacked like a modern-day frilled shark. This means that in addition to its long jaws and rostrum, and anguilliform body, it also grabbed onto prey then swallowed it alive. Furthermore, there are signs that the primitive shark resembles the alligator gar.

The Anti-Atlas area associated with the discovery is described as “Morocco’s Berber heartland.” It consists of kasbahs, villas, and scenic landscapes. Its main town is Tafraoute.

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