Monday, 9 February 2015

Erfoud and the Fossil Industry

This area of Morocco used to be an ancient sea the bed of which has now been raised exposing fossiliferous limestone. The most common is from the Devonian period and has ammonites and orthoceras showing light against the black base limestone ( called locally marble as they think that posher). It polishes well and is used to make tables and sinks. Indeed it is everywhere in Erfoud even set into concrete steps.

We had hoped to stay the night and take a 4X4 trip into the desert. I had read about Erfoud's fossil industry and it made  the town sound like the Klondike in the Gold Rush.

The area is also known for its tribolites, many previously unknown species of which have been found there. They are prized by american collectors such as Bill Gates and the rarest and best specimens sell for over $20,000 a piece.

The hotel at Erg Cherbi advertised trips which described a town seething with fossil hunters and cabinets of fossils out side every shop. It wasn't like that the town was nearly deserted. The central hotel we hoped to stay at seemed deserted and when we found a staff member and asked if there was a room available (they clearly were not fully booked) he excused himself and left us waiting and after some time sweetheart saw him peeping round a door to see if we'd gone and he could come out. We realised we would not get a trip to the fossil field  nor see the "prep" shops for the tribolites, and decided just to have lunch, see if we could see any fossils and move on.
 The fossils are mined on an industrial scale and the trade is worth about $40million pa to the moroccan economy. We did find a shop with a small "museum" and the owner was happy to show us how they processed the rock.
They start by throwing water onto it as this increases the contrast and allows them to see the fossils more clearly.

They then decide what the sample is suitable for, tables, sinks,plaques, individual specimens, and cut them accordingly. Individual fossils may be picked out using dental drills and air brushes

 or sheets or blocks of stone may be cut and polished to make tables or sinks . Sweetheart bought a pestle and mortar and we splurged as I had been looking for a coffee table since we redid the salon.

It is mostly orthceras with some other fossils. Our friend says we paid a good 25% less than the best price he would get in Taroudant and it was less than a cheap pine table at Argos, so I am happy.
The owner had excavated under the shop and made a sort of grotto which he used as a museum for some of the better specimens he'd found, dinosaur eggs and parts and particularly good tribolites and ammonites.

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