Giant megalodon shark teeth may have inspired Mayan monster myths
Giant fossilized teeth from extinct megalodon sharks may have inspired portrayals of a primordial sea monster in Mesoamerican creation myths, according to a new study of the concepts of sharks in ancient Mayan society.
The study looked at how the Maya combined a practical, prescientific knowledge of sharks with their traditional understanding of the world around them as the creation of gods and monsters.
In the research paper, titled “Sharks in the Jungle: real and imagined sea monsters of the Maya,” published online Nov. 21 in the journal Antiquity, Sarah Newman, an archaeologist at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, wrote that fossilized teeth from the extinct shark species Carcharodon megalodon were used in sacred offerings at several ancient Mayan sites, such as Palenque in southern Mexico, where archaeologists have found 13 megalodon teeth. [See Photos of Megalodon Sharks and How They Inspired Mayan Myths]
Giant megalodon sharks were apex predators of the world’s oceans from around 23 million years ago until 2.6 million years ago. Their teeth, jaws and vertebrae have been found at many sites in Central America.
Newman said ancient Mayan depictions of a sea monster named “Sipak” — also known as Cipactli (which translates to “Spiny One”) to the Aztecs of central Mexico — have a single giant tooth that bears a strong resemblance to the fossilized megalodon teeth from sacred offerings found at Mayan sites.
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