Researchers look back to see sharks over Flagstaff

Shark tooth

While the Discovery Channel wraps up its 25th anniversary edition of Shark Week, a little something happened away from the TV images of great whites wreaking havoc on the waves.

In the academic world, at least, Shark Week made a pass through Flagstaff this year, which might come as a surprise to those who have noticed a distinct lack of ocean in northern Arizona.

But that wasn’t always the case. A while back—say, about 270 million years or so, during a time known as the Middle Permian, scientists tell us—this neck of the woods was actually under water. And the water was home to sharks.

Say hello to Neosaivodus flagstaffensis.

That’s one of the three species of shark identified by a group of researchers that included Northern Arizona University’s David Elliott, a professor in the geology program.

Elliott and NAU’s James Wittke, a geologic materials analyst in the School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability, were among four authors of a paper that appeared recently in Historical Biology: An International Journal of Paleontology.

Their work caught the attention of, which featured their research in a news story.

“This work has resulted from collections of teeth made by local collectors,” Elliott said. “We have identified over 30 shark taxa to date. This is only the first of a projected series of papers that will make the Permian Kaibab Formation a global standard for these organisms.”