Much of Morocco’s Anti-Atlas Mountains in the far south are built of Paleozoic rocks, dating back 245 to 570 million years, and Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian and Devonian limestones abound. When these rocks were deposited, a warm, shallow sea teeming with life covered the region. Trilobites scuttled along the seafloor, and huge schools of Orthoceras, squid-like nautiloids with cone-shaped shells, swam above. When these creatures died, their shells were preserved in the limy mud of the seafloor.
The epicenter of this open-air ancient underwater world is Erfoud at the end of the desert road in the middle of the Ziz oasis. Just a few miles outside of town you can start picking up stones at random looking for imprints of marine life millions of years ago. One of the Tahiri Brothers, local self-made paleontologists who founded the Museum of Fossils and Minerals likens it to fishing. "We're like fishermen living off the sea, except that our sea is dead."
The desert around Erfoud has become one of the richest and most lucrative sources of fossils on earth, especially for trilobites -- the ancient relatives of today's insects, spiders, centipedes, crabs and lobsters.
All Wildland travelers have an opportunity to visit the museum and any number of shops filled with fossils, shark's teeth and dinosaur teeth, and all sundry of products like beautiful tables and home accessories.
But we can take budding young paleontologists and fossil hunters just a few hours out of the day and step into the outskirts of town to prime hunting ground for diggers. Here we can observe shallow trenches hand-dug by Berber miners following productive horizons in their search for trilobites. Diggers crack open rocks and, when they break into a trilobite fossil, save both halves. Broken trilobites are taken to prep labs in Erfoud where they are glued back together. Preppers then painstakingly chip out the trilobites. Their preferred tool is a micro-sandblaster.
For the teams of men who work in the small pits and trenches that mark the fossil fields, shovels, picks and chisels, and perhaps a backhoe, are the tools of choice. It’s hard, dusty work. Many miners are Berber tribesmen whose families have deep roots in the region. Family heritage plays a big role in the mining, restoration and export business, and many of our guides from Midelt to Erfoud have family or friends who have worked in the mines, trenches and shops inspiring one generation after the next with an early interest in minerals and fossils.
The Tahiri Brothers’ Museum of Fossils and Minerals preserves and displays scientifically important specimens to promote geological education. It's impossible to estimate how many young fossil collectors in Morocco and from around the world have been inspired to take up careers in science by their collections of Moroccan trilobites. Your young Wildland travelers may be next!
Here is a collection of some fossil found in the Sahara Desert for all the paleontologist out there:
Keeping it wild,