Searching for fossils in Morocco

Posted by Liz Kruesi
on Sunday, November 10, 2013

We explored ancient rock that contains fossilized orthoceras (the cigar shape at left) and ammonites (the spiral shape at right). // Liz Kruesi
My travel companions and I spent yesterday and today exploring the fossil-rich region of Morocco. The now-arid land was covered by a sea millions of years ago, and the preserved remains of the animals that lived within it are embedded in rock formations near the Saharan desert. The 30 of us on the MWT Associates Gabon & Morocco tour traveled from Ouarzazate to Erfoud yesterday, and on the way we stopped at an ancient rock formation. After we exited the bus to walk around the rocks, our guide poured water on the rock. The outlines of fossilized orthoceras and ammonites then became obvious. I’ve never seen fossils in any setting other than a museum, so this was pretty neat.

Our group laughed as four Moroccan berbers (local tribesmen) came out of nowhere to try to sell decorative pieces containing fossils. (They must have been able to spot the tour bus from miles away.) We hung around the site for about 45 minutes, while some group members picked up a few rocks and many of us took photos.

The Taddart Museum has a collection of some 50 meteorites. These were the largest samples. // Liz Kruesi
We continued the theme today as we stopped at a “fossil factory” on the way out of Erfoud. There, workers cuts slabs of marble and chunks of rock — both holding fossils — and polishes the marble into decorative pieces or chisels out individual fossils. Their work was incredible. They had marble tables, sinks, plates, candle holders, and even toilets for sale. (Although, I can’t imagine that anyone would purchase a marble toilet with embedded fossils.)

At the factory, a worker showed us how they chisel out an individual fossil — each one takes some three days of labor. As we all gasped at the amount of time spent, he explained that “Europeans have watches, Africans have time.” Well, that statement seems to sum up most of the artistry we’ve witnessed here in Morocco. They spend a lot of time with their crafts.

Today on our way to Fes, we also went to the Taddart Museum, which contains fossils, minerals, and meteorites. The museum had maybe 50 meteorites on display, and a few people on the trip purchased some of them. The meteorite samples had nice fusion crusts and aerodynamic shapes — evidence of them falling through Earth’s atmosphere.

A few members of our group ride camels along the sand dunes outside Erfoud, Morocco. // Liz Kruesi
While the fossils and meteorites were fascinating, we also had the chance yesterday to be extremely touristy and ride camels up sand dunes to watch the Sun set. We were running a bit behind getting into Erfoud, so the tour company drove their four-wheel-drive vehicles as fast as they could off-road to get us to the dunes. (It made me realize how gentle I am with my all-wheel-drive car!) As soon as we got to the camels, we jumped out of the vehicles and hopped on a camel. We rode along the tops of dunes to get to a peak, sat down, and less than five minutes later watched the Sun set behind the Atlas Mountains. It was an awesome experience.

We explore Fes tomorrow and then head to the airport to travel home early Tuesday morning.

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