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Fossil Fish blog

2 Posts tagged with the minerals tag
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On our second day in Morocco we had to pack our cases as we would be staying in a different hotel that night. Our team would also be splitting up to cover as many different sites and areas of interest as we could.

 

Desert driving

 

Our adventure to the first site was not without drama. We had three vehicles travelling in a convoy (I likened it to something from Top Gear - three Land Cruisers, traveling over amazing desert landscapes and each with its own personality) and an hour into our journey I had started to doze off. The next thing I knew I could smell burning - we had pulled up at the side of the road and were told to get out of the car immediately. It turned out our brakes had overheated and fused together.

 

There was a strong burning smell and some smoke. It wasn't anything major, but did mean we had to go down to two cars. All the luggage was transferred to the roof and seats put up in the boot and off we went again. It was a slightly more bumpy ride in the boot but all good fun. The adventures of an earth scientist!

 

On the way, we stopped to look at some monkeys in Cedar Forest, it was along a touristy trail so they were fairly tame and would steal your food if you gave them the chance. Many had infants attached to them, which were cute.

 

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Monkey eating some bread in Cedar Forest.

 

Finally we reached the first stop,  an extinct volcano site where analytical chemist Emma Humphreys-Williams wanted to collect some mantle xenoliths for her research. Mantle xenoliths are fragments of rock from depths of up to 50km, brought to Earth's surface through volcanism. We all got out the vehicles and spent a little time walking over the site looking at the volcanic rocks, which for me meant thinking back to my undergraduate degree in geology.

 

There were some lovely lava flows and volcanic tuff (basically consolidated volcanic ash). The xenoliths that we were looking for were a lovely green colour. My team were only there for about half an hour as most of the palaeontologists went onto Bakrit to look for more shark teeth. However, Emma HW, Zoe, Mark and Helena spent the day here. To find out more about what Emma and others did, check out the Brachiopod and Cephalopod collections blog!

 

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Arriving at the volcano site, I thought it looked like something out of a Star Trek film.

 

After another hour's drive with quite a bit of bumpy off-roading (which I found quite fun) we reached our next site at Bakrit. Late Maastrichtian in age (last part of the Cretaceous period, about 70 million years ago) and an area rich in black organic deep water phosphate deposits. This is overlain by shallow-water limestone of unknown age (but is something we are working to determine) containing a diverse molluscan assemblage.

 

Searching for shark teeth

 

Bakrit is a site that both Charlie and David were very keen to look at as both had collected shark teeth from there before and wanted to add to their knowledge and increase diversity of the Museums collections. Again this site was great for just walking along and finding lots of shark teeth sticking out of the surface. Some of the most common shark teeth we found were Cretolamna and Squalicorax which belong to the same family as the Great White shark (Carcharodon carcharias).

 

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At Bakrit walking up the exposure looking for shark teeth.

 

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The very small lighter/whiter bits were small (0.5-1cm)  shark teeth, Zerina is looking for some.

 

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A small number of the shark teeth we found. The scale is 1cm.

 

After an hour or so at the site, where we took measurements and GPS co-ordinates for all the material we collected, we were back in the vehicles and back on the bumpy road to meet our other colleagues who had been at the mine for the afternoon. Then we made our way to our accommodation in Midelt.

 

Charlie currently has all the shark teeth and is working to identify them all. They will then be marked up and put into the collections in the Museum for people to research and use. It's likely that a couple of scientific papers will be published about the site at Bakrit and the fossils found there over the next year or so.

 

Keep checking back here for more updates about our trip and visit Zoe's blog to see what others got up to in the field!

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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.

 

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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.

 

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Charlie Underwood digging in the rock face and sieving for shark teeth.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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All set and ready to go down the mine.

 

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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...