Aviana Stevens wants to be a police officer when she grows up. Or maybe she’ll follow in her parents’ footsteps and join the military.
Or perhaps she’ll become an archaeologist.
She’s not quite sure yet.
But if the 8-year-old Bluffton, S.C., girl does end up studying fossils or ancient artifacts for a living, she will likely look back at last Sunday afternoon as a key milestone on her career path.
Aviana found a fossilized shark tooth earlier this week at the bottom of the May River near the Alljoy Beach area.
But this wasn’t just any shark tooth — millions of years ago this tooth was inside the mouth of a Carcharodon megalodon, a long-extinct species that scientists regard as one of the largest and most ferocious marine predators to ever roam the ocean.
“I was feeling excited and nervous at the same time,” said Aviana, a third-grader at Bluffton’s M.C. Riley Elementary School, when she recalled pulling the tooth from the water. “I got so excited that I started to cry.”
Her father Jason Stevens, who said he “has loved hunting for shark teeth since (he) was a kid” and regularly accompanies Aviana on her adventures, was thrilled as well.
“She let out a squeal, and we were both kind of jumping up and down,” he said. “As soon as she pulled it out of the water, I knew it was a megalodon tooth.”
Stevens’ split-second assessment of the roughly 5-inch-long tooth appears to be an accurate one.
Shown photos of the fossil, Shawn Damon of Lowcountry Fossil Excursions, a company that guides amateur archaeologists on artifact hunts, immediately identified Aviana’s discovery as a megalodon tooth.
Adam Smith, a paleontologist and curator of the Campbell Geology Museum at Clemson University, came to the same conclusion.
Aviana’s find is “definitely a tooth from Carcharodon megalodon, the extinct giant white shark that was relatively common along the coasts” of South Carolina from about 23 million years ago until about 2 million years ago, Smith said in an email.
Aviana joked that she enjoys “learning about sharks and dinosaurs, but I wouldn’t want to be face-to-face with a megalodon.”
If megalodons still cruised Lowcountry coastal waters today, staying out of their faces would be a pretty good idea.
“One of the most fascinating things about (the megalodon) was its immense size,” Smith said.
The giant sharks could grow to as long as 50 feet, which is “more than twice as large as the largest living white sharks,” Smith said.
“Fossil evidence suggests that these giant marine predators preyed primarily on whales,” he said.
The tooth Aviana found Sunday might be the largest she’s plucked from the May River, but it certainly isn’t the first.
“I’ve found a bunch of other shark teeth, but they’re usually tiny ones,” she said.
Scouring Bluffton for hidden treasures has become one of Aviana’s favorite hobbies.
“She got a metal detector from Santa last year,” Aviana’s mother Ronda Stevens said. “She’s been into treasure hunting for a while.”
Jason Stevens said, “We usually just find junk, but it’s a healthy hobby — it’s good to get outside.”
Ronda said her daughter has “a wide variety of interests.”
“She’s a cool kid,” Ronda said. “I’m just super proud of her.”
And Aviana is super proud of her recent discovery.
“When I found (the megalodon tooth), we got on my dad’s golf cart and we rode around showing it to everyone I know in the neighborhood,” she said. “Then I took it school (on Monday), and I can’t wait to show it to my grandma when she comes to visit me.”