Aurora Fossil Museum
With rows of 7-inch teeth, the megalodon once stalked the prehistoric ocean, growing longer than a pickup truck and hunting in waters that once covered much of North Carolina.
Now the state has a chance to memorialize the extinct shark and help rescue the nonprofit that serves as its shrine: the Aurora Fossil Museum.
If the museum can collect 500 willing motorists, the Division of Motor Vehicles will place its megalodon tooth logo on a license plate, giving it much of the profits. Next to the tooth, the plate reads, “Dig the past!”
“Everybody gets to show off their megalodon,” said Cynthia Crane, the museum’s director. “We think it will be pretty cool. People will be saying, ‘Where’d you get that?’ “
Fossil fans can print or download the application on the museum’s website and send it to the listed address. The standard plate costs $30 and the personalized version is $60, and all but $5 of the costs goes to the museum.
So far, Crane said, about 50 applications have been collected. But she notes postal service has slowed down, a national concern as the election approaches.
“We’re hoping a lot of them are sitting in a basket somewhere,” she said.
Aside from its standard plates, most commonly featuring the Wright brothers 1903 flight, the state keeps a list offering dozens of specialized versions, including Save the Sea Turtle, Friends of the Appalachian Trail and the Harley Owners’ Group.
About two hours southeast of Raleigh and which is about 30 miles northeast of New Bern, the Aurora museum sits near Pamlico Sound, which first attracted phosphate miners in the 1950s. Mining operations have exposed layers more than 100 feet below sea level, allowing rich samples to be excavated.
The museum, founded in 1976, allows visitors to dig in pits of material collected by nearby miners. Though it has been closed since March due to COVID-19, one of the ways it has kept afloat is by sending out “micro kits,” or small boxes of fossil materials.
“You have to go through it really slowly,” Crane said.
But with a hand-sized shark tooth smiling from the back of cars on the highway, she hopes the megalodon will keep the museum and history alive.
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Josh Shaffer covers Wake County and federal courts. He has been a reporter for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.