Charlotte native finds tooth of 11-foot prehistoric beast in South Carolina river

Joe Marusak
·3 min read

A Charlotte native who hobby-dives for fossils found a rare tooth of an 11-foot prehistoric beast in a South Carolina river last week.

Eric Proulx discovered the tooth of a gargantuan short-faced bear 45 feet deep in the Cooper River, about 20 miles north of North Charleston.

He was diving with Johnny Cercopely of Cooper River Dive Charters.

“It’s black water,” Proulx told The Charlotte Observer on Saturday. “You can see about a foot around you, but you can’t really see your surroundings. I had two fairly big catfish ram into me that Saturday (March 20) and I never even saw them. I felt this big fish hit my side.”

Using “really bright lights,” Proulx said he found the tooth, which measures just under 3 inches, about 500 yards south of the Cypress Gardens Boat Launch. The boat launch is south of Moncks Corner, S.C.

The find was so rare in the state that the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia has only a molar in its collection from such a bear. Proulx said he’s donating the tooth to the museum.

The bears were at least double the length of the present-day black bear. They lived beside “giant ground sloths” and mammoths before becoming extinct 11,000 years ago, or roughly 9,000 B.C.E., according to the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History.

“On all fours, they could look you in the eye,” Proulx said.

Charlotte native Eric Proulx loves diving for fossils. The tooth he found in the Cooper River of an 11-foot prehistoric beast was only his latest big find.
Charlotte native Eric Proulx loves diving for fossils. The tooth he found in the Cooper River of an 11-foot prehistoric beast was only his latest big find.

The bears were so enormous that their cave scratchings have been found 15 feet from the ground, he said.

Officials at the South Carolina State Museum initially thought the tooth belonged to a prehistoric lion, Proulx said, because of tiny cracks around the tooth. The teeth of prehistoric lions had tiny grooves around them, while short-faced bears had smooth teeth, he said.

The cracks on his bear tooth occurred over the centuries, he said.

Love of fossil searching

Proulx, 25, is an electrical engineer who lives just over the N.C. line near Carowinds in the Fort Mill, S.C., area.

As a boy, he loved searching for shark teeth in Aurora in Eastern North Carolina.

He couldn’t afford diving for fossils until he graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2018, he said.

He has since spent 300 hours under water searching for fossils, he said, primarily in the Cooper River and the Meg Ledge, short for Megalodon Ledge off the coast of Wrightsville Beach. The ledge is known for its giant prehistoric Megalodon shark teeth. He dives there with Jet Lag Dive Charters.

Proulx considers other fossils he’s discovered over the past year to be more extraordinary than the bear tooth. He found the tusk of a Columbian mammoth last fall a couple of hundred yards from the tooth.

“The tusk came up in three pieces and is just over 8 feet long,” he said. “It weighs a total of 140 pounds wet.”

He found a small jaw from the species Leopardus amnicola, a rare cat that once roamed the area. He donated the jaw to the South Carolina State Museum.

He discovered a giant sloth tooth, and an ancient skull from what may be a never-before described species, he said. The skull is being examined at the museum, he said.

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