We want our shark tooth back, Malta tells Prince George

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Prince George and his megalodon tooth, which the Maltese Government has asked to be returned
Prince George and his megalodon tooth, which the Maltese Government has asked to be returned

It was the sort of kind, grandfatherly gesture that brings a bit of light and joy to these dark, worrying times.

When David Attenborough gave an ancient shark’s tooth to Prince George at the weekend, the little boy’s face lit up with delight.

The seven-year-old was thrilled to be told the tooth once belonged to a megalodon, an extinct species of giant shark that could grow to a length of more than 50ft.

He was given the tooth when Sir David attended a private viewing of his latest documentary, A Life On Our Planet, with members of the royal family.

As any parent knows, tantrums and tears await anyone who has the temerity to try to take back such a precious gift. But that’s exactly what Malta apparently plans to do.

An artist's impression of what a giant megalodon shark would have looked like - Stocktrek Images
An artist's impression of what a giant megalodon shark would have looked like - Stocktrek Images

The fossilised shark tooth was found by Sir David during a family holiday in Malta in the 1960s.

He prised it out of soft yellow limestone and pocketed it, perhaps depositing it in a drawer at home, along with countless other treasures picked up on his travels around the world.

Now Malta wants it back. Jose Herrera, the former British colony’s culture minister, said the 23-million-year-old shark tooth should be in a Maltese museum.

"There are some artefacts that are important to Maltese natural heritage and which ended up abroad and deserve to be retrieved," he told the Times of Malta.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis with Sir David Attenborough 
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis with Sir David Attenborough

"We rightly give a lot of attention to historical and artistic artefacts. However, it is not always the case with our natural history. I am determined to direct a change in this attitude.” The minister said he intended to “get the ball rolling”.

Under Maltese law, fossils are defined as “objects of geological importance” and digging them up or taking them away is prohibited. But the law was introduced in 2002 – more than 30 years after Sir David’s find.

Some Maltese thought the government's pledge to retrieve the shark's tooth was ridiculous.

Matthew Caruana Galizia, one of the sons of Daphne Caruana Galizia, the journalist who was blown up by a car bomb in 2017 after investigating corruption on the island, said ministers should have other priorities.

"A megalodon tooth costs $40 on eBay. Corruption has cost us billions of euros. I ask my government to prioritise and please get a grip on what's important. "

Watch: David Attenborough - A Life On Our Planet: Clip - Our Planet

Contacted by The Telegraph, a representative for Sir David said he had “no comment” regarding Malta’s move. Nor did Kensington Palace have any comment on the matter.

Malta’s claim may be a modest one, but it mirrors the kind of demands faced by British museums and cultural institutions for the return of long-lost artefacts.

Greece has for decades campaigned to win back the missing Parthenon Marbles, which were brought to London in the early 19th century by Lord Elgin.

Earlier this month, 18 members of the US Congress wrote to Boris Johnson urging Britain to return the marbles to Athens by next year, when Greece will mark the 200th anniversary of its formation as a modern state.

Nigeria wants the British Museum to return the Benin Bronzes – a collection of sculptures and plaques in bronze, ivory, ceramic and wood that decorated the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin.

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