As I mentioned on my Twitter account @NHM_FossilFish, myself and several colleagues from the Museum and another institutions recently went on a collections-enhancing trip to Morocco. It was absolutely amazing! Over several blog posts myself and Zoe Hughes will take you through our adventures, so make sure you check out her Brachiopod and Cephalopod collections blog!
Over the last few years lots of fossils and minerals from Morocco have flooded the market. We are even seeing an increase in people bringing them to events for us to identify. Currently our collections from Morocco are limited, so during the trip we wanted to:
- expand the Museum's collections
- see famous sites like the Kem Kem (famous for dinosaurs) and Goulmimia (famous for ammonites and fish)
- collect some of our own samples
Over the last year the Museum's former Palaeontology and Mineralogy Departments merged to form the new Department of Earth Sciences, and because both minerals and fossils from Morocco are of interest to the wider scientific community we mounted our first earth sciences fieldtrip.
The palaeontologists of the group were myself, Martin Munt, Martha Richter, Zerina Johanson, Zoe Hughes, Mark Graham our fossil preparator, research associate David Ward and regular Fossil Fish visitor Charlie Underwood from Birkbeck, University of London. The mineralogists were Mike Rumsey, Helena Tolman and analytical chemist Emma Humphreys-Williams.
Back row: Mark Graham, Zerina Johanson, Martin Munt, Charlie Underwood, David Ward, Martha Richter, Mike Rumsey, Helena Toman and Emma Humphreys-Williams. Front row: Myself (Emma Bernard), Moha (our guide) and Zoe Hughes.
On Wednesday 18 September our group arrived at Heathrow Airport for our flight out to Casablanca, Morocco. We arrived late at night and were met by our drivers and our guide Moha. We went straight to the hotel and settled in for the evening ready for our first day in the field.
On Thursday 19 we were all up ready for a trip to a farm near the town of Oued Zem. This area is known for the phosphate mining industry, a by-product of which is fossil material, specifically Cretaceous reptiles such as mosasurs and thousands upon thousands of shark teeth!
It was a warm day, about 30 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. We went to a farm where Charlie and David had previously collected samples and have a good relationship with the owners. Here we wanted to sample different beds to see what sharks and other marine animals were present in each layer.
We collected large samples and them put them through several fine sieves and then picked out what fossils we could find. This mainly consisted of shark and ray teeth and small fish bones. We collected over 20 bags of this sediment to bring back to the Museum so we can have a closer look.
Charlie Underwood digging in the rock face and sieving for shark teeth.
Emma and Zoe enjoying the sun and picking the sediment for shark teeth.
For lunch we went to another local farm where I think we all agreed, we had one of the best tagines any of us have every had. It was delicious. The farm also had a fossil shop and it was great to look around at what they had on offer.
Just some of the fossil specimens on offer in a Moroccan farm shop.
In the afternoon we were back at the farm with all the shark teeth and we were in for a real treat. Part of their land included an old phosphate mine which they now use for excavating fossils, and inside there was a near complete shark belonging to the genus Otodus of Yspresian age (Early Eocene in age, about 50 million years old). Shark skeletal material is cartilaginous and therefore rarely fossilised, but this specimen has several articulated vertebrae and lots of teeth preserved.
All set and ready to go down the mine.
Me with the shark skeleton, the round white circles are the vertebrae.
The mine was a lot cooler inside than outside which made for a nice change when we were still adjusting to the temperature difference. After we stumbled back outside we were greeted with some lovely saffron tea (a first for me) and we packed all our specimens and sediment into the van and headed off for the hotel discussing what we had found that day.
From here on, myself and Zoe Hughes will be taking each day in the field in turn, so make sure to check back to find out what else we did...