November 28, 2012

Hunting Shark's Teeth: One Generation to the Next

Over Thanksgiving, Mom and I decided to take my sister's oldest two children (4 and 2 1/2) down to the rivershore to get a little energy out of them and see if we could try to teach them how to find shark's teeth. For generations, people have been finding shark's teeth along this strip of the James River and it always amazes me how every time I come, there are still more to be found.

My grandmother grew up on this same property overlooking the James and my mother and I both grew up visiting the farmland and rivershore, so this is a tradition we cherish. My mom built a house on the land about 7 years ago and we've enjoyed getting to visit whenever we please.

Since finding shark's teeth is a skill passed down from generation to generation in our family, we thought it would be fun to see if the two of us could actually teach these two little ones how to do it.

You can tell how seasoned of a shark tooth hunter my mom is by her stance above. The moment we step onto the shore, we immediately begin surveying the sand and rocks, looking for those shiny little black teeth to make themselves known. Once you know how to find them, it's hard to really concentrate on anything else until you get at least one during your trip.

The way we teach anyone (little or big) to find the teeth is by circling the ones we find first and getting the person to try to find the tooth within the circle. Knowing one is in there helps train your eye to recognize what it's looking for. 

Just look for the tiny black, slightly shiny, triangle shape and you will find your shark's tooth:

See that tiny black triangle on the right above? That's it!

Here's a bigger example — can you see the tooth in this circle?

Every tooth is shaped a little differently, so it's fun to see what you'll unearth on any given trip down to the rivershore. Now that you've learned how we go about it, maybe you will also enjoy watching my niece and nephew try to look for their first shark's teeth too. 

Let's start with Virginia. We found a shark's tooth and circled it in the sand, then told her to come over and try to find the tiny black triangle inside the circle:

Evidently, we musn't have said inside the circle quite right since she first began looking outside the circle, haha. With a little direction, she centered in and focused:

After a short while, she'd found her prize:

Mom and I began cheering very loudly and over-excitedly. I think she and I were more excited about Virginia finding the tooth than little Virginia was. Later on in life I think she will grow to realize that this is one of our family's rights of passages. Maybe she will teach her children and grandchildren how to do it.

After a few more circles, Benjamin came over to see what all this loud cheering was about:

So the next circle was all his. At 2 1/2 years old, mom and I weren't sure finding the teeth would register with him yet, but to our surprise, he zeroed in and focused much quicker than Virginia initially did:

Finding the teeth in the circle was easy for him — mom and I were just amazed, and quite pleased with ourselves for being the ones that got to show him how.

Finding shark's teeth can get sandy and messy, so we also learned how to quickly rinse off our hands at the edge of the river:

Once they got the hang of it,  hunting shark's teeth became very exciting for all — it seems Basil is in on this game too:

Aside from finding shark's teeth, this portion of the James river just seems like a magical place with so much to see and explore. Being there makes me think of the times I spent on the sand as a child and those generations who've grown up down here before me. I'm so thankful I get to spend moments like these with my family down here.

My mom once found a giant shark's tooth just inside the water when she was 40 years old — it was almost the size of the palm of her hand. Still a child at the time, I actually got angry at her, telling her that I should have been the one to find it (what a brat, right?). She told me that when I'd been hunting on this rivershore for 40 years, that I too would come across a giant tooth of my own. We've joked about that find of hers for years now and I always tell her that my time is coming.

What's even more ironic is when I took Tim down to this rivershore for the 1st time and taught him how to find the teeth, he ended up finding a giant one too! I was so jealous and happy for him at the same time. I ended up telling him the story of what happened when I was younger with my mom and laughed that it really must be true that I'll have to wait until I'm in my 40's to find a really huge one (Tim was in his early 40's at the time). He joked right back and told me it was cause when you're in your 40's, only the big ones pop out at you!

All of this is a little background to tell you how amused I was at one point during this Thanksgiving visit to look down at the sand and see this popping out:

In my own excitement, I walked over to mom and said I must have found this tooth since it was close to my 30th birthday. It's a substantial size and almost perfect in nature compared to the more normal ones we find on this beach, though only about 1/3 of the size of the ones she and Tim have found in their 40's. We all had a good laugh.

On a related note, writing this post actually makes me think of a recurring dream I often have. It goes something like being in a random location (not Beechwood) where I look down on the ground and see a little grouping of shark's teeth. As I reach down to quickly scoop them up, I all of a sudden notice even more, larger ones — one right after the other, like a gold mine. It's all I can do to try to get them all, in disbelief at how large and pristine each one is over the other. It always goes like this — though the location changes. Maybe one of you can analyze this dream for me and tell me what it means, ha.

Do you have recurring dreams? I seem to have several different series of them — the shark tooth dreams are some of my favorite.


  1. I love everything about this post! Awesome find, Mary!! I'm ridiculously happy you found one...maybe that recurring dream will be put to rest now?

    I have a recurring dream that I've been having since I was about 7. In my dream I'm sleeping in my bedroom, but am awakened by the sound of a large army marching towards my town. Next thing I know they're knocking down our doors and searching for people. I always have the feeling it is from medieval days.

    1. Monica,

      I loved reading about your recurring dream. They are so weird. I have also had the same variations on different dreams since early childhood. I would love to learn more about this.

  2. Wow I used to spend my summers along the James River across from Williamsburg next to the ferry pier. I loved, I mean really really loved looking for and finding shark's teeth there. My most favorite dreams of my whole life are the rare ones when I am back there and I find shark's teeth; there must truly be something magical about that area. I found this blog because I was looking up why the shark's teeth I found there are so many different colors, then I thought to just type in "shark's teeth found along the James River VA" I'm so glad I did! I still have most of the ones I found as a kid. You know there are all these rocks concreted together that are strewn along the shore; usually after a big storm they'll wash up. A big group of us kids and a couple of adults were walking along; one of the ladies stopped, looked at a huge concreted rock, walked over to it and pulled the biggest tooth I had ever seen out of a crevice in the rock. The tooth was broken in half lengthwise but it was as big as my 9-year-old hand. I will never forget that; it was like she was just drawn to it. Thank you for reminding me of this wonderful memory! I think it's beautiful that you have passed this hobby down to your kids. Looking for shark's teeth helped me learn how to be alone and content; I will always love those memories...


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