330 million years in the making, and to become one of the best-known fossil sharks from Scotland, the Bearsden Shark was found by fossil collector, preparator and dealer, Stan Wood when he worked for the Hunterian at the University of Glasgow.
In 1981, Stan Wood, then of BaljaAray, Bearsden, on the north-western outskirts of Glasgow, was given some fossiliferous shales by local children. He recognised that these shales could throw light on the early development of vertebrate terrestrialisation, as well as holding a selection of beautifully preserved fossils. The fossils are so well preserved that not only are the sharks’ last meals identifiable, but so are blood vessels and muscles in phosphatic mineralisation. So began, with the participation of The Hunterian, a small-scale excavation on the banks of the Manse Burn near Bearsden. By 1982, hundreds of fossil fish, many new to science, along with sharks and shrimps had been collected by Stan and his team. Amongst the discoveries was the Bearsden Shark. Stan spent many months carefully preparing the 70cm long shark from the encapsulating shales until the complete articulated shark was fully exposed.
When it was first examined, it was thought to be a complete example of Cladodus or Stethacanthus, but a later study by Mike Coates and Sandra Sequeira identified it as a new species, which they named Akmonistion. The name describes the strange, anvil-like structure immediately behind its head (akmon is anvil and istion is sail in Greek).
In December 2015, after much work by a local community group intent on celebrating the significant discovery made on its doorstep, a plaque was unveiled near to where the shark was found. The local ‘shark group’ accessed funding and help from a number of sources including Tarmac, which operates the nearby Douglasmuir Quarry. Help was also provided by Scottish Natural Heritage, East Dunbartonshire Council and Ranger Service and the Hunterian Museum. The plaque is on top of a small cairn by a bridge with railings that have the name Bearsden Shark bent into the baluster.
Extract from - Earth Heritage 46 Summer 2016
Welcome to this online resource dedicated to the world-famous Bearsden Shark.
No-one could have dreamt of the treasures which lay buried beneath the mud and rock of Bearsden's Manse Burn - waiting patiently to be found by a generation of history hunters.
But in 1981 a wait which began millions of years before was finally at an end when an inquisitive young boy found fossils and excitedly showed them to a local expert. Stan Wood led the excavation of the burn and one of his first finds sent shockwaves across the world - capturing the imaginations of young and old alike. Sleeping amidst the shale beds of the waterway was something no-one ever expected to find - the complete skeleton of a 330-million-year-old shark, the best preserved in the world from that time. The one-metre-long Akmonistion zangerli is better known as the Bearsden Shark and its legend continues to grow even now. The shark - a species previously unknown to science - is so well preserved that experts can even tell its final meal before it slipped below the water for the final time. It is a source of great pride that such a significant scientific discovery was made in our area and it is thanks to the hard work of the local residents that the site is properly marked with a cairn. As well as the shark, many other discoveries have been made in the area - making it one of the most important fossil shark sites in the world.
I am delighted that local school pupils are learning about the previously-hidden world of wonder on their doorstep and I hope the shark remains an inspiration for centuries to come. Indeed, it moved Scottish poet Edwin Morgan to pen an ode in its honour - further evidence of its enduring legacy. The shark is no longer a resident of East Dunbartonshire - it is on display at Glasgow University’s Hunterian Museum - but its home for 330 million years is well worth a visit, as is this website - packed full of interesting facts about the shark and the find of a lifetime.
Stan Wood was a largely self-taught fossil hunter who made a series of internationally important finds over a long career.
He had a knack of spotting things that others might miss and would go back to sites long since considered worked out to make new discoveries. In 1987 he opened a shop in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket to bring his passion for fossils to a curious public. His last few years were very productive and his finds from sites in the Scottish Borders may yet prove to be the most valuable contribution to science in what is already a notable legacy.