Another expedition to Morocco has come to an end. I had feared difficult weather conditions during our drive across Europe and in the Atlas Mountains. Quite unnecessarily, as it turns out. The tyre chains did not even get a whiff of snow. It had indeed snowed in the Azrou region a couple of days before our arrival, but the snow had melted by the time we arrived there.
First, we visited the region located between the towns of Oued Zem and Khouribgha. This huge region is the world’s number one in phosphate extraction from the end of the Cretaceous and the beginning of the Neogene period and continually provides us with spectacular fossils. They are to be found in nearly every road cutting there, but their main „source” is the houses of miners who extract them. Besides them, plenty of people engage in the trade of fossil hunting and send boxes full of shark and mososaur teeth all over the world. There are small manufacturers operating there which make fake skulls and jaws of Cretaceous reptiles using plaster, pieces of contemporary bones and fossilised teeth. Our visits to a miner friend resulted in the purchase of numerous reptile and fish teeth, vertebrae as well as pterosaurus bones.
The next stop on our way was the vicinity of Imilchil in the Middle Atlas. The mountains welcomed us with beautiful weather, golden leaves, morning frost and magnificent views – the air cleared after previous rains and the visibility was excellent. I hadn’t taken many photos during my last visit there due to the rain and foggy weather. This time Paweł and I decided to climb the summit, rising to 2988 metres above sea level. Garnet, titanites, vesuvianites, magnetites, epidotes and feldspars are extracted in the area. Some beautiful quartz crystals appeared there last year but their exact source has yet to be confirmed. Fleeing from the cold, we set off from Imilchil, through the mountains, towards Goulmima and Alnif. Within only a few hours the temperature had increased by over 20 degrees, but our shorts were lying buried deep inside our transport chest.
A hill range formed from Cretaceous rocks stretches from the Goulmima region towards the town Rich. The mountains are dug up along the horizon over an area of several dozen kilometres, where chalk-flint concretions and abundant fossilised fauna occurs. These are mostly ammonites of the Mammite and Fagesia genus but the remains of fishes and sea reptiles also occur there. The men from the tiny settlement of Asfla busy themselves with the seeking out and preparation of fossils. The extracting conditions worsen year on year. Virtually the whole layer along the disclosure has been removed and the miners now cut deep galleries and underground corridors in order to get to the proper layer.
Our next destination was the triangle of Alnif – M’cissi – Tassmant. Hill ranges stretch between them and are a veritable goldmine of cambrian, ordovician and devonian trilobites. Apart from traditional workshops which still use hammer and nail, new preparatoria using specialised equipment are being founded. Unfortunately, more and more professionally-made fakes are appearing. Only a couple of years ago one look at the eye of a ready-for-sale trilobite was all it took to make ensure that it was not a fake. At the time specialists were not able to carve fine lenses. Regrettably, today the „professional shops” have silicone moulds and use epoxy resin to make almost perfect replicas. Fortunately, the resins are characterised by the fact that during hardening air bubbles on the surface of the cast appear which mean that you can recognise the forgery. It is, however, more difficult when the specimens are only partially reconstructed. You can recognise the filled cavities by the colour when you moisten the surface of the fossil. Sometimes it is enough just to breathe on the trilobite. The moisture increases the contrast between the fossil and the filled cavity. You can sometimes – especially with rare specimens – turn a blind eye to such „insertions” and consider it as a preparatory treatment.
It is high time to head to the Erfoud region. We visit our friend Mohamed El Meddiki who – provided he is in the mood for it – sets off to the nearby hills in the quest for fossils. But usually he does not feel like moving anywhere, so his acquaintances gather fossils in the yard of his Maison Africa. This „shop” is one of many operating in the area. Unfortunately, none of them have a high sales volume because the asphalt road built from Rissani towards the tourist village of Merzouga draws tourists away from the old road along which the shops are located. In the yard of Moha’s shop, encircled by clay walls, you can find piles of limonite concretions with carboniferous snails and goniatites, gigantic plates „treaded out” by ordovician arthropods, devonian limestones filled with cepalophods, huge septarias, stromatolites and plates with Silurian crinoids. All those stacked up preparates being eroded under desert conditions ;-)
Nobody welcomed us to the mines of Taouz due to the Festival of the Sacrifice. But Omar was the only one who did not let us down. He normally mines there for vanadinites on goethite and hematite. The vanadite specimens I bought from him appealed to me until I came to Midelt. It turned out that in one of the mines there they came across crystals of extraordinary colour and size. So you can now touch world-class specimens ;-)
New specimens will be soon available in our shop. Among them for the first time will be unique ordovician arthropods, starfishes from the Zagora region, rare devonian trilobites from the Alnif and Foum Zgouit region, quartz from a new localisaton of Imilchil region, hematites from Taouz, vanadinites from the newest hit in Midelt, cretaceous ammonites from the Agadir region, verterbrae of cretaceous reptiles from Asfla. Do visit us!
More photos and reports from our last expedition on www.blog.kamyk.plTranslation from the Polish: Paweł Jankowski Proofreading: Will Harper