Young Stafford Explorer Has an ‘Eye for Stuff’

By David Biggy | Sep 25, 2019
Photo by: Supplied photo Stafford fifth-grader Ethan Kreybig goes through the assortment of old shark teeth he found on a beach in Florida during a trip this past summer.

Stafford Township — Many 10-year-olds have dreams of someday being a doctor or veterinarian or firefighter. Or maybe a professional athlete. Ethan Kreybig has one of those on his list, for now.

“I want to be either a paleontologist or a basketball player,” said the Stafford Intermediate School fifth-grader. “I guess I won’t know which one I’ll be until I’m older, though.”

Indeed. But paleontology just might be his calling, the main indicator being not only his enjoyment of digging holes in the sand at the beach or in the dirt of the Kreybig family’s backyard, but also his fascination with discovering old things while doing so.

For instance, about four summers ago, while in Brant Beach, Ethan dug up what appeared to be a really large tooth – it was some 2 inches long and about an inch and a half wide.

“When I was 6, I was looking for shells, and I picked up a bunch and was going through them, and I found this tooth,” he said. “I yelled to my mom, ‘I found a shark tooth!’ and at first we thought it was a Megalodon tooth. It was really cool.”

Ethan’s mother, Jenelle, a teacher in the Southern Regional School District, emailed Gregory Lattanzi, the curator for the archaeology and ethnography department at the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton, to try to find out just what her son had discovered. Lattanzi discussed the find with natural history curator David Parris.

“He indicated that it is an ox/cow (Bos taurus) molar or molariform premolar,” Lattanzi wrote in his reply. “During the Colonial Period and the early Independence of the United States, it appears slaughterhouse offal was dumped offshore, which is why cattle teeth are beach-washed fairly often. Hope this helps.”

It helped enhance Ethan’s fascination with historic items and his passion for digging up or simply finding old stuff amid his travels.

Two years ago, in August 2017, Parris responded to several more emails from the Kreybigs about more of Ethan’s discoveries, which included more teeth and several feathers, one of which belonged to the tail of a great horned owl. But it was the tooth that really took the youngster by surprise.

“It probably is Pleistocene (Ice Age) and 10,000-12,000 years old is a good estimate,” Parris wrote in an email dated Aug. 22, 2017. “I don’t think the anatomy of the tooth would be that diagnostic, but the sediment is generally about that age. If you find grayish scallops on the same beach, they too are likely of that age. Current shells are more colorful.”

So, now Ethan knows: Blackened teeth are old. But how about finding a hundred of them? He did that during a trip to Englewood Beach, near Venice, Fla., this past summer, and assistant curator Dana Ehret gave insights as to the 120 teeth he brought home.

“Many refer to Englewood Beach as ‘The Shark Tooth Capital of the World.’ In fact, Venice has a shark tooth festival every year,” Ehret replied in a July 23 email. “The larger tooth you sent pictures of belonged to a snaggle-toothed shark, Hemipristis serra. Your specimen is an upper tooth. Most of the others appear to be requiem sharks (dull, silky, dusky sharks) and sand tiger sharks. The age of the teeth is mostly late Miocene-Pliocene Age, about 4-5 million years old.”

A big “Star Wars” fan who plays the piano and cello, Ethan also enjoys classic cars and classical and older rock music, and loves to play basketball. He enjoys visits to the Franklin Institute and other museums as well. But nothing lights his fire like digging up shark teeth.

“I have an eye for stuff, and I like picking up very tiny things and looking at them, inspecting the details,” he said. “I’m very interested in stuff like that. It’s really exciting to find these things, to find out how old they are. Finding teeth from things that no longer exist is really awesome, and learning about them is really cool.”

Of course, mom loves to see her son take an interest in something so unusual.

“He learns about history through his discoveries,” she said. “He’s constantly finding things and asking questions, which I think is great. He’s always exploring. He’s not just sitting around. He’s doing something he finds interesting, and it’s an educational experience for him.”

And who knows? Maybe someday he’s going to bring home that Megalodon tooth.

“That would be the ultimate discovery for me,” he said. “That would be crazy. I’m going to keep looking for one.”

— David Biggy

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