Man builds business on fossil finds

Megaladon tooth

We live in an area that loves history. Old stuff matters here (which might be why every once in a while something I say is still relevant). But in Mark Havenstein’s workshop, the “stuff” he finds, buys, collects and sells is not measured in decades or years. What he handles every day is thousands or even millions of years old.

Havenstein, 50, is one of the country’s foremost fossil and mineral suppliers.

The College of Charleston grad with a degree in geology is also a shark tooth expert. Collectors around the world buy shark teeth from him.

He has drawers and boxes and cabinets full of teeth. Some were extracted from area river beds, others from far away places such as Morocco.

As a Navy brat born in Hawaii, he found his first shark tooth as a young boy walking on a beach in Spain. He still has it, along with a thousands more.

He met his wife-to-be, Karen, in college and they now run a business called Lowcountry Geologic. Mark says, “She does all the business stuff I despise.” Matters like billing, bookkeeping, web design, etc. It’s a pretty good arrangement. He finds the stuff, they both try to sell it.

Started in 1992, for the first 10 years, the business struggled. This year, though, might be the best the James Island couple’s ever had since taking a bite out of selling shark’s teeth.

What is it that makes shark teeth desirable and, in some cases, valuable?

In Mark’s mind, it all started with the movie “Jaws” in 1975.

“There’s still something intriguing and fascinating by a creature that can eat you.”

The teeth come in all shapes and sizes. Some are shaped like saw blades, others are long and thin. Some are made to pierce and cut flesh. Still others are flat to crush mollusks.

The sheer number of shark’s teeth around, though, does not seem to diminish their value. Here’s why: These aren’t just teeth, they’re fossils.

Scientists believe sharks have been on Earth about 400 million years. When a shark dies, once it decomposes, all that’s left are, you guessed it, he teeth.

The condition of a shark tooth, not its size, dictates the value. Getting that tooth ready for the showroom takes somebody willing to get his hands dirty and his machinery revved-up.

In the workshop, there are grinders, polishers, micro-sand blasters, diamond saws, pneumatic chippers and tumblers.

Some teeth are found with barnacles or even oysters attached. The first order of business is to clean ’em up.

A shark is born with a complete set of teeth. Sharks do not have cavities and science recently discovered their teeth contain fluoride.

A shark’s tooth has no root and when one falls out, another replaces it, sometimes within 24 hours. Now that’s a dental plan!

But forget all that. It’s how these teeth are repurposed that makes them so popular. Depending on the presentation, shark’s teeth might end up in a necklace, a pendant or occupy the corner of a desk as a paper weight.

Some teeth are perfect as curios or trinkets. A megaladon tooth can weigh more than a pound and be bigger than a man’s hand.

Trying to pronounce some of the inventory in the workshop requires one either to be hooked on phonics or, at the least, willing to buy a vowel. At every turn there are examples of diplomystus, ammonites and trilobites.

Havenstein’s big dream is to one day discover a trunk of buried treasure. Till then, he’ll keep cleaning and polishing and selling his fossils.

He loves his business, but never falls in love with individual pieces because “everything’s for sale.”

Everything except the very first tooth he found as a young boy. That happenstance discovery produced a dream and eventually a business.

Not even the fossil tooth fairy could wrestle that one from his clutches.

Reach Warren Peper at