Yes in my garden. Strange place to find sharks and seashells. Not the living kind mind you, but the fossilised remains thereof!
It all started some years ago when I commissioned some excavation works to build a cistern to capture rain water. Precious water to keep my trees and plants alive during the hot, dry Maltese summer. As the workmen cut through the solid rock I started noticing a rich variety of fossils embedded in the chunks of rock that were being dug up. Mostly consisting of the beautiful shells of molluscs, perfectly preserved, standing white against the pale golden limestone.
Then I came across a minute tooth, a shark’s tooth standing there in the rocky sediment and the realisation hit me. I was standing in the very place where thirty million years previously a shark lost a tooth which drifted lazily to the bottom of an ancient ocean to be preserved for posterity. I possess quite a varied collection of fossils from all over the world, but none of the fossils in my collection possesses the special link to time and place as this tiny shark’s tooth.
Thirty million years ago there was no Malta. There was a deep sea in which sediments of dust and dead marine creatures slowly but surely accumulated for some twenty million years until the pressure of Africa crashing into Europe uplifted Malta above sea level. There was a long period of time when Malta and its sisters were not islands but were linked to the European continental mass via a land bridge with Sicily. However the rise in sea level brought about by the end of a massive ice age five million years ago made the Atlantic spill into the Mediterranean so that the waters rose and Malta, Gozo and Comino became detached into a separate archipelago.
The patch of land over which my ancient shark swam survived some thirty metres above sea level and eventually came to form part of the tiny garden at the rear of my house.
Today it is very different. Mature and young trees jostle with plants and herbs to create a small oasis of green . The sea is one kilometre away and down a hill. My tiny garden is very much a patch of land which is both high and dry.
In spite of this I often marvel at the fact that one day, thirty million years ago, a shark was swimming in what is now my garden and nonchalantly lost a tooth which waited all these long years for me to find and treasure.