Back to: Nature online

Fossil Folklore

 Ammonites | Belemnites | Bivalves | Fish Teeth | Shark Teeth | Echinoids | Crinoids
What are fossils? Fossil types

Shark teeth:

Introductionred arrowEuropean folklorered arrowMaltese folklore 1red arrowMaltese folklore 2red arrowMaltese folklore 3red arrowJapanese folklore red arrowSteno: solving the mysteryred arrowReferences and links

St Paul on malta

Maltese folklore 1

Although found in many parts of Europe, fossil sharks' teeth are especially associated with the small Mediterranean island of Malta where they were once collected in great numbers. During medieval times Malta was the centre of a flourishing trade supplying fossil sharks' teeth to many other European countries.

One Maltese tongue stone legend concerns St Paul the Apostle who was shipwrecked on the island in AD 60.

As written in the Acts of the Apostles (28:2-7), St. Paul was bitten by a snake, which rose out of a fire built to warm the shipwrecked sailors. St Paul flung the snake back into the fire, and it was noted that he was unharmed, thereby convincing the heathen islanders that he was a god. As a punishment to the snakes of the island, he reputedly took away their ability to produce poison (Zammit-Maempel 1989). The cursed Maltese snakes also lost their eyes and tongues.

Different fossils found in the Miocene rocks that form Malta are believed to be 'serpents' eyes' (palatal teeth of another fossil fish) and 'serpents' tongues' (sharks' teeth).

As a result of their connection with St Paul, all fossil sharks' teeth from Malta were considered to possess supernatural powers, especially against poison.