The name used here to describe these blades is generic and is applied here to all forms and varieties of culturally altered shark teeth.  These blades are primarily a Florida artifact, but may apply to any coastal environment, especially if natural stone is not readily available. Such environments consistently contained shark tooth blades in Florida.  A comprehensive study of some 175 shark tooth blades from the Boca Weir site, conducted by John F. Furey, used examples from the Key Marco site as a comparative base.  A second study done by Laura Kozuch included some 841 examples from the Granada, Fort Center, and Wightman sites.

The Kozuch study statistics show that of the 841 examples, 47% were upper teeth and 35% were lower, and 18% could not be determined.  Only 11 of the 841 teeth were fossilized.  There was a clear preference for taking teeth from live sharks including Great Whites.  While the overall numbers seem fairly even between upper and lower teeth, it is clear that by species, there was considerable preference given between upper and lower teeth.

Diagnostic characteristics here refer in general to patterns of alteration applied to the many varieties of teeth.  Since the natural form of shark teeth requires very little alteration for use, the presence of these alteration characteristics and the cultural association of their recovery become extremely important to their classification as artifacts.

Shark teeth were altered in a number of ways.  Drilled refers one to three holes being drilled through the tooth at the location of the nerve pit.  Drilling was done from both lingual and buccal faces of the tooth by using another shark tooth as a drill.  The Lemon shark example pictured here is a drill from the Boca Weir site.


Drilled Dusky shark tooth

Abraded refers to grinding on one or both faces of a tooth creating a flat surface by removing the median boss.  This was done by using another tooth, often leaving serration marks across the face of the abraded area.

Abraded Hammerhead tooth

Filed means that the area of the lateral denticles or cusps were removed by cutting or filing as seen in the example below.  This large Carcharodon Megalodon tooth is one of the rare instances where fossil teeth were used.  This example was used as a pendent worn around the neck.

Fossilized Carcharodon Megalodon tooth filed to remove cusp areas

Cut roots implies that the roots of the tooth were cut to some degree, sometimes completely removing the root while others appear more notched.

Sand Tiger tooth with root tips removed

Distal blunting indicates that the distal or tip end of the tooth was purposely removed and rounded.  This may have also resulted from use.

Black Tip shark tooth with distal blunting and cut roots

To understand these alterations more completely, it is important to identify each of the shark types used by Native Americans.  Each of these examples were recovered from a cultural context.







BULL SHARK (Carcharhinus Leucas) A common species of inshore shark. Growing to as much as 11 feet in length, the Bull Shark is known to attack man.  Early cultures show some preference for the use of upper teeth that are larger than lower teeth.  Upper teeth average .75 inches in length and are serrated.  This was the most common variety of tooth in the Kozuch study.


LEMON SHARK (Negaprion Brevirostns) Of the family Carcharhinidae, the 6 to 8 foot long Lemon Shark is a common in-shore species notoriously dangerous to man.  Upper and lower teeth, averaging .75 inches or smaller in length, were commonly used and account for 159 of the Kozuch examples, 146 from Granada, and 13 from the Fort Center site.  Examples from the Boca Weir site show tip wear and cut roots indicating use as drills.






TIGER SHARK (Galeocerdo Cuviei) One of the most dangerous spefies, the Tiger shark grows to over 11 feet in length.  Uppe4r and lower teeth are indistinguishable.  The total study count is 127 examples.  The perforated example shown here is from the Key Marco site.  Perforation seems to be the preferred method of hafting these teeth.  Perforated teeth were used as saws and clubs at Key Marco.  Human remains at other sites across Florida indicate that these clubs were effective in leaving large gashes into the bones of their victims.






DUSKY SHARK (Carcharhinus Obscurus) This species grows to a length of  about 12 feet.  Both upper and lower teeth were equally altered.  Most patterns of alteration were applied to Dusky Teeth.







SNAGGLETOOTH SHARK (Hemipristis Serra) The Snaggletooth shark grows to a length of about 8 feet and feeds on invertebrates found in shallow waters.  Teeth can range up to 1.8 inches in length and are finely serrated.  These were the most numerous type teeth at the Boca Weir site where 55 examples showed tip and edge wear and 65% of the examples were drilled.  The serrated edge and natural curve make them especially useful as a knife.  Many of the wooden carvings the survive from the Key Marco site have serration marks from being carved with serrated shark teeth.







SAND BAR (Carcharhinus Plumbeaus), SPINNER (Carcharhinus Brevpinna), and BLACK TIP (Carfharhinus Limbatus) are illustrated together here as their teeth are nearly indistinguishable to the non-professional.  In general, all of these sharks have broad upper teeth with serrated edges.  The lower teeth are narrow and less serrated.  The primary alteration pattern for the teeth of all these species is root alteration by cutting or abrasion and by filing the cusp areas.







GREAT HAMMERHEAD (Sphyrna Mokarran) and SCALLOPED HAMMERHEAD (Sphyrna Lewini) are generally considered deep water sharks, but any of the five species of this shark may visit shallow water.  Their deep water habitat may account for there being only 31 examples in all of the studies done in south Florida.  Only two examples appear to be altered, one by filing (here).  This example is also partially drilled from the lingual face.  Hammerheads are known for their broad head and immense size, growing to a length of about 16 feet.  Both upper and lower teeth were used by early cultures.  Teeth can measure .75 inches and larger, are unserrated, and have a broad root structure.


SANDTIGER SHARK (Odontaspis Taurus) Common along the warm waters of the Atlantic coast, many shoreline sharks are mistakenly called Sand sharks.  There is only one true Sandtiger shark that grows to 10 feet in length and will attack man.  Upper and lower teeth are indistinguishable.  Altered teeth are most commonly cut in the area of the upper root.  Only one study example was drilled.

WHITE SHARK (Carcharodon Carcharias) The "Great White" is considered the most dangerous shark to humans.  While averaging 15 to 20 feet in length and weighing as much as 9,500 pounds, much larger specimens have been authenticated.  During the winter months the White shark migrates northward along the eastern seaboard of the United States and can be found in the Gulf of Mexico.  Three teeth, including one drill example, have been recovered from shell middens along the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Florida.  All show tip and edge ware.  Recovered teeth average 2 inches in length and are serrated.  Of the 24 examples used in the south Florida and Fort Center studies, upper and lower teeth were used equally.  Alteration was primarily by drilling and all examples showed edge and tip ware.  None of the examples were fossilized.



Extinct Mako tooth drilled                               Modern Mako teeth


MAKO SHARK (Isurus Glaucus) Shark fishermen consider the 6 foot long Mako the best fighting shark for sport fishing.  This characteristic resistance may account for the low number of recovered teeth and the use of fossil teeth.  of the non-fossilized examples there seems to have been a preference for using upper teeth.  Most examples show cut roots and tip ware much like the Sandtiger teeth.


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CARCHARODON MEGALODON (No common name as the species is extinct) Described as the largest carnivore that ever lived, estimates of the Megalodon's size run from 40 to 100 feet in length, based on 10 feet of body length for every 1 inch of tooth length.  Fossil teeth from this species that lived during the Miocene and Pleistocene eras can measure 10 inches, but much smaller examples are far more common.  The example Megalodon tooth pictured here (figure 1) was recovered with Weeden Island ceramics from Pasco Counry, Florida.  It measures 2.5 inches long and shows filing in the lateral cusp area.  The example in figure 2 was cut in the root area and may have been used as a dart point. Two examples were recovered in the Kozuch study, both of which had tip wear.  Jeffrey Mitchem described an example from a Safety Harbor village midden site (8 Pi 12) in Pinellas County, Florida.  The partial tooth had been flaked along the side for use as a knife.

The cultural context of shark tooth blades dates at least to the Middle Archaic period.  Eight non-fossil teeth, one with two drilled holes and pitch, were recovered from the Windover site dating to 7443 RCYBP.  A further example of Middle Archaic use was the recovery of drilled examples from the Gothier site in Broward County dating between 5000 and 6000 RFYBC.  Evidence for Late Archaic use came with the recovery of examples at the Partarician Mound in Palm Beach dating to 4000 RCYBC.  Stanley Bond, Jr.'s 1985 excavation of an Orange period site at Crescent Beach yielded a tooth with two drilled holes.  The L & L site in Dade County produced three drilled teeth belonging to periods dating from Glades I (AD 500) to Glades IIIa (AD 1450).

This map of Florida indicates sites where utilized shark teeth have been recovered (dots).  The lined areas represent Florida's 19 quarry clusters.  It becomes immediately apparent that where there was not an abundance of workable stone, shark teeth were heavily used.