Malta backs down on demand that fossilised shark tooth given to Prince George is returned 


Malta’s Culture Minister has backed down after initially demanding the return of a fossilised giant shark’s tooth gifted by Sir David Attenborough to Prince George.

Jose Herrera said yesterday that he was looking into whether the tooth from an extinct Carcharocles megalodon should be returned to the country but has now said he will take it no further.

A spokesman for the ministry for national heritage, arts and local government said: ‘The minister would like to note that with reference to this case, it is not the intention to pursue this matter any further.

‘Minister Herrera has absolutely no doubt that young Prince George will grow to become a fond admirer of Malta’s rich natural history.’

Sir David (pictured in 1968) said he found the 23-million-year-old tooth embedded in soft limestone while on holiday in Malta in the late 1960s

Malta has demanded the return of a fossilised giant shark’s tooth that Sir David Attenborough gave to Prince George (left with the tooth) as a gift to mark their first meeting at Kensington Palace 

Sir David presented his gift after he attended a private viewing - held in the palace's grounds - of A Life On Our Planet, his new environmental documentary. Socially distanced in the open air, the Duke of Cambridge and Sir David were offered directors' chairs with their names printed on the back - but in a change of plan they sat in each other's seats (pictured)

Sir David presented his gift after he attended a private viewing – held in the palace’s grounds – of A Life On Our Planet, his new environmental documentary. Socially distanced in the open air, the Duke of Cambridge and Sir David were offered directors’ chairs with their names printed on the back – but in a change of plan they sat in each other’s seats (pictured)

The tooth given to the prince once belonged to a megalodon (artistic rendering pictured), an extinct species of giant shark that could grow up to 52 feet

The tooth given to the prince once belonged to a megalodon (artistic rendering pictured), an extinct species of giant shark that could grow up to 52 feet

Is it illegal to fossil hunt in Malta? 

According to Malta’s 2002 Cultural Heritage Act palaeontological finds – including fossils – form part of the country’s cultural heritage.

They are dubbed a ‘movable or immovable object of geological importance’.

It is considered an offence to remove or excavate them without permission. 

Furthermore, section 70 of Malta’s Cultural Heritage Act states that it is an offence for anyone to ‘receive or retain any cultural property knowing that it has been illegally removed in Malta or illegally exported from any other country’.

Should anyone break that law, they could be liable to a €2,000 (£1,814) fine, up to six years in prison or both.

Before the 2002 act, Malta’s cultural heritage was protected by the 1925 Antiquities Act.

Prince George, seven, was photographed looking intrigued as he handled the fossilised tooth from a megalodon – one of the most feared predators to have swum in the seas.

Sir David said he found the 23-million-year-old tooth embedded in soft limestone while on holiday in Malta in the late 1960s.

The country was a British colony until 1964 and the Queen was its head of state until 1974. 

The Maltese Culture Minister Mr Herrera said yesterday that the tooth should be in a local museum and promised to ‘set the ball rolling’ to get it back.

‘There are some artefacts that are important to Maltese natural heritage and which ended up abroad and deserve to be retrieved,’ Herrera told the Times of Malta, without giving details of how he intended to recover the fossil.

If found in good condition, the teeth of a Carcharocles megalodon are highly-valued by fossil collectors.

This is especially true of teeth larger than five inches – a highly uncommon find – which can be sold for several thousand dollars. 

Sir David presented his gift after he attended a private viewing – held in the palace’s grounds – of A Life On Our Planet, his new environmental documentary.

Fossil hunting in Malta is strictly regulated and retrieving and excavating them without permission goes against the country’s 2002 Cultural Heritage Act.

All palaeontological finds are considered a ‘movable or immovable object of geological importance’ and form part of the country’s cultural heritage. 

A Life On Our Planet offers a revealing and powerful first-hand account in which Sir David reflects on both the defining moments of his life as a naturalist and the devastating changes he has witnessed.

Socially distanced in the open air, the Duke of Cambridge and Sir David were offered directors’ chairs with their names printed on the back – but in a change of plan they sat in each other’s seats. 

Sir David chatted to William, Kate and their three children George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis after the screening.

William interviewed Sir David at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last year, and during the discussion the broadcaster warned that humanity needed to act so that they did not ‘annihilate part of the natural world’. 

Sir David Attenborough has given Prince George a fossilised giant shark's tooth to mark their first meeting at Kensington Palace, after discovering the young royal was a 'massive fan'

Sir David Attenborough has given Prince George a fossilised giant shark’s tooth to mark their first meeting at Kensington Palace, after discovering the young royal was a ‘massive fan’

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge also previously met the conservationist in September 2019 at Birkenhead (above), for the naming ceremony of the polar research ship the RRS Sir David Attenborough, with the encounter appearing in the upcoming ITV documentary, Prince William: A Planet For Us All

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge also previously met the conservationist in September 2019 at Birkenhead (above), for the naming ceremony of the polar research ship the RRS Sir David Attenborough, with the encounter appearing in the upcoming ITV documentary, Prince William: A Planet For Us All

WHAT WAS THE CARCHAROCLES MEGALODON AND WHY DID IT BECOME EXTINCT?

Jaws may have terrified you at the cinema, but the iconic great white would have been dwarfed by Carcharocles megalodon, the largest shark in the history of the planet.

The giant creatures lived between 23million and 2.6million years ago and scientists are divided over how and why the species perished.

The predator grew up to an incredible 59 feet (18 metres) long, and it used its giant teeth, that could grow up to 7.1 inches (18cm) to feed on smaller marine mammals.

In the past, climate changes have generally been blamed for its disappearance, while some research also suggested the giant shark became extinct because the diversity of its prey decreased and new predators appeared as competitors. 

The ancient shark has been described as a super predator, because it could swim at high speeds and kill a wide variety of prey such as sea turtles and whales, quickly in its strong jaws.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge also previously met the conservationist in September 2019 at Birkenhead, for the naming ceremony of the polar research ship the RRS Sir David Attenborough, with the encounter appearing in the upcoming ITV documentary, Prince William: A Planet For Us All. 

Two images were released by the palace to mark the occasion, with the first showing Sir David as he met with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, both 38, and their children.

Dressed in a dapper suit, the 94-year-old naturalist, who hit headlines recently after joining Instagram, is seen standing a safe distance from the family who are gathered around a bench in their gardens – with Kate looking resplendent in a cotton denim shirt dress, thought to be by Gabriela Hearst, costing £1295.

Kate, who once again matched her children to her fashion choice, with the whole family wearing various shades of blue, recently revealed that her youngsters were ‘massive fans’ of Sir David, and were disappointed they didn’t get to meet the national treasure during their parents’ catch up with him for ITV documentary, Prince William: A Planet For Us All. 

In a new clip to promote the royal’s programme – which shows his passion for the planet and search for ways to restore the environment for the next generation – Prince William is seen greeting the broadcaster by saying: ‘Here’s a recognised face,’ while Kate admits that George, Charlotte and Louis are disappointed to not be in attendance.

The duchess, who revealed in lockdown that her eldest son was often watching David Attenborough’s Blue Planet, says: ‘The children were very upset that we were coming to see you and they weren’t coming. They’re massive fans of yours.’

With a shared passion for protecting the natural world, William and Sir David continue to support each other in their mission to tackle some of the biggest environmental challenges the planet faces.

Buckingham Palace declined to comment. 

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