What was Bryan County like millions of years ago? Try asking local resident Bill Eberlein.
Eberlein spends most of his free time scavenging the ocean floor for remnants of Bryan County’s earliest recorded prehistoric residents.
Fossils found by him and others indicate that this community, as well as those in the surrounding area, were once completely submerged by water as part of the ocean bottom. At a later stage, mammoth elephants roamed in what is now Bryan County. Eberlein has uncovered thousands of bones and teeth in his scuba diving expeditions, done mostly in Richmond Hill, to support this.
Some of his more interesting finds include teeth from an early species of shark called a Megalodon that swam the oceans millions of years ago and was enormously larger than its modern predecessor. The Megalodon was a shark similar to the Great White, but the size of a large whale. Their teeth are the size of your hand. Other interesting finds include teeth from Mastodon, or mammoth elephants that lived in the area in the distant past and fragments of ancient crocodile jaws.
Eberlein’s regular job is a Computer Information Systems Instructor at Savannah Technical College, but Eberlein still finds the time to dive multiple times a week in search for remnants from the past.
"There is something very peaceful about being out there alone," Eberlein said. "It is also very exciting when you find something that no one has ever seen before. You have to really enjoy it to do this because it’s not the most comfortable feeling down there - especially in zero visibility. It takes a lot of patience as well; there are many trips where you’ll find nothing. Most people come up after finding nothing and say ‘it’s not worth it.’ If you love it and have the patience, it’s well worth it."
Eberlein, a former scuba diving instructor, cautions that this kind of diving is not for the average recreational diver.
"You have to be a very experienced diver to try this. Even with a powerful dive light, the visibility is almost always near zero. In addition, there are strong currents to contend with. You basically just crawl around and feel for the fossils sitting on the surface. I literally end up inches away from stingrays. I jump back and they take off and it takes a second before I am sure that I have not been stung. They worry me more than the sharks and alligators that I sometimes see out there."
Eberlein’s wife Tina says she worries about him diving.
"A few years ago a very well known fossil diver died while diving near Ossabaw Island," she said. "I do worry about him, but what can you do? It is what he loves to do."
Eberlein said he always takes someone out with him as a safety precaution. In the process, he has turned Richmond Hill residents Ray Pittman and Gene Brogdon into fellow scuba explorers.
"He’s an amazing diver with an extraordinary ability to find fossils in our local waters," Brogdon said. "I enjoy his knowledge and diving with him."
Eberlein’s fossils are on display at the Midway Gallery, at the corner of Hwy. 17 and Martin Road, and at his website at www.megateeth.com. Many of them are for sale. Go to www.bryancountynews.net for a video clip of Eberlein at the Gallery.
In addition to his diving hobby, Eberlein is an avid photographer and a section in the Gallery is dedicated to his photographs – mostly taken from his boat. He also dedicated time to the Bryan County groups Arts on the Coast and Richmond Hill Rotary.