Herrera should have traded the Maltese shark tooth for one of Queen Victoria’s molars

The Skinny | No. 55 • Jose Herrera’s Misadventures in Historical Dental Recovery

What are we skinning? Culture Minister Jose Herrera’s valiant but ultimately thwarted attempt to snatch a 23 million year old shark tooth from the greedy paws of eight year old British royal scion Prince George.

Why are we skinning it? Why indeed? There’s plenty of common sense in Jose Herrera’s proposal, but I guess the farcical kernel that lies embedded within it has devoured the host body entirely and engulfed the story for good.

That’s a lot of useless words. I need to know what you’re talking about if I’m to emerge on either side of this apparently contentious debate. Okay. So, internationally beloved environmental broadcaster Sir David Attenbourgh finds a megalodon shark tooth while on holiday to Malta in the 1950s. Fast forward half a century later, and he’s seen donating it to young Prince George as a birthday gift on public television. In response, our culture minister threatens to “set the ball rolling” on getting it back.

It’s a sensible enough proposal, so what’s the problem? Well, there’s something inherently funny about snatching a gift away from an eight-year-old royal scion...

That’s not funny. That’s hilarious. Yes, and it’s also possibly why the public’s reaction was to treat it as either the set-up or the punchline to a really good joke.

But I doubt Herrera intended it to be taken as such. Those in film and theatre know the old adage, ‘Never work with animals or children’. And when the child is literally English royalty and the animal is what’s left of a prehistoric undersea killer, you’ve got a nightmare team-up on your hands.

Okay, okay, so ‘Herrera demands a baby prince gives a Maltese shark tooth back to the islands, haha’ – but there are legitimate grounds for legal and heritage-based steps to be taken here, surely? Yes, no doubt. Attenbrough broke very specific laws in taking the shark tooth with him, and it does in fact legally ‘belong’ to Malta.

So can’t Herrera’s critics just get over themselves? Yes, the sadistic jeering may be slightly out of place, and one kind of feels for Herrera after he was cowed by it all to backtrack all the way. But neither can we entirely blame his many and vociferous detractors...

Why not? Well, it would have been easier to take Herrera at face value if he had a rich precedent of Maltese politicians and authorities cracking down on environmental and heritage abuses. Picking on this one particular case after he happened to spot it while performing the equivalent of mere channel-zapping is hardly redolent of a consistent and ingrained sense of patriotic duty towards our natural history.

Isn’t that whataboutism in action? Aren’t you ‘fejn kont’-ing Herrera? Perhaps. But again, if he’s annoyed about us not taking him seriously on this one, perhaps he should have thought about casting himself as David in this David and Goliath narrative... where Goliath is an eight-year-old child.

Do say: “While there’s plenty to be said about the ingrained history of the colonial plunder of our islands, and of the on-paper legal good sense behind Herrera’s initial request, he should pick his battles and remember that people will value perspective and proportion at all times.”

Don’t say: “Maltese shark tooth for one of Queen Victoria’s molars. Fair trade?”

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