This is a special additional blog written by our fossil preparator Mark Graham, who was part of our group who went to Morocco. Here Mark tells us why he was excited to visit Morocco and what we found at the famous Kem Kem beds...
Mark happy to be at the Kem Kem.
While I am fascinated in all aspects of palaeontology, it is the vertebrates of the Mesozoic Era that have always been the main focus of my interest, whether collecting, preparing, or just reading about specimens. The fauna of the Late Cretaceous worldwide includes some truly amazing creatures and one of the iconic locations is the Kem Kem beds of Morocco.
Our visit to the Kem Kem was, for me personally, the part of the recent fieldtrip that I was most looking forward to – although I knew that every location would be fantastic.
In my mind’s eye, I was picturing the red exposures and imagining the wonderful fossils that we might find: Carcharodontosaurus saharicus, the fearsome theropod dinosaur and apex-predator of the region at that time, the sail backed Spinosaurus aegypticus, a relative of our own Baryonyx, massive sauropods like Rebbachisaurus – not to mention dromaeosaurs, crocodiles and pterosaurs!
It was very exciting as we neared the steep exposures and got our first glimpse of the upper layers, where local collectors dig triangular-shaped caves into the cliff face and work their way many metres in without the benefit of any supporting rafters.
Mark Graham at the entrance to one of the mines at Kem Kem.
The climb up got all of us puffing but happily there was good footing so plenty of grip (unlike some other exposures that we had climbed). Here they pick at the rocks and drag them outside the cave-mouths to form spoil heaps and it was on one such mound that Zoe Hughes and I scraped away and found what looked like two jaw pieces, about 15cm long. There was a lot of the sandy matrix still attached, so identifying what they are will require some preparation in the lab.
Mark Graham with a piece of jaw (Zoe Hughes found another piece).
All too soon we were out of time, back in the cars and off to the next (non-vertebrate!) location. I wish that we’d had more time at Kem Kem, but the trip encompassed many other important locales and we were cramming in a whole lot of geological and road time.
It’s difficult to single out the ‘best part’ of the fieldtrip as we were finding important materials to enhance the collections everywhere we went. The stromatolite exposures were incredible, but so too was collecting mantle xenoliths with mineralogy colleagues on the side of an extinct volcano and visiting echinoderm miners in the Sahara.
But the Kem Kem – ‘there be dragons’…
I have to say I felt similar visiting the Kem Kem beds. I grew up being facinated with dinosaurs and hearing things about Spinosaurs, so being able to visit the place where some of these ferocious beasts once roamed the land was a special treat. I have to say I was slightly jealous of Mark and Zoe's find! We also collected some sediment from the Kem Kem which is being sieved and we are sure to find some more interesting fossils!
Me at the entrance to one of the mines at the Kem Kem.