Moroccan fossils south of the Atlas Mountains are literally crammed with paleontological and mineralogical specimens, and the inhabitants’ business drive has benefited scientists and collectors. The locals immediately recognized that extracting, treating, and selling fossils would make far more money than digging in the barren dirt, so the Bedouins of yesteryear took up hammers and shovels and practically swamped the world market with high-class findings.
But not everything sails abroad: many extraordinary treasures remain in their original location and are displayed in a variety of tiny museums. Private museums run almost the entire route from Erfoud to Rissani. The owner of each museum will not only show you samples and will almost probably try to sell you something, but he will also tour you around recognized paleo-points for a fee. However, one of these museums, located a few kilometers outside of Erfoud, is notably larger and more fascinating than the others.
Unlike the exhibitions we are used to seeing in Europe and Russia, there is no clear distinction between a museum and a souvenir shop: one seamlessly merges into the other, and the shelves with treasures for sale include no less interesting specimens than the permanent exposition. And the latter, it appears, is not permanent and is not for sale under any circumstances.
The vast majority of the collection is housed in a single, small hall. Instead of glass showcases, there are lengthy rows of shelves with exhibits ordered chronologically. Of course, the Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, and Devonian periods take up the most of the area with their ever-changing trilobite varieties.
Toward the end of the Paleozoic, the trilobites gradually vanished, along with the sedimentary rocks on the country’s territory that are of paleontological importance. The Mesozoic is much more sparingly represented, primarily through plaster casts of American artifacts.
The curator turned out to be a polite and inconspicuous young man: he greeted us, gave us a brief history of the museum, and let us into the racks with freely standing discoveries that no one could manage. To suggest that the lighting in the museum is subpar is a lie: there is just no lighting. However, because we were given complete freedom, we were able to turn on the Phoenix, a powerful pocket “spotlight,” and effortlessly guide the blinding beam to shoot images wherever we chose.
The Moroccan fossils on display at the Erfoud Museum are breathtaking. Some examples seem completely surreal, such as a flawlessly dissected animal with a dense forest of long curled spines on its back or an entire procession of trilobites lined up in a perfectly straight line and apparently quickly buried by a landslide while migrating to a better place.
The paleontological exhibits are followed by racks of specimens for sale, which are numerous but not as intriguing as the paleontological exhibits. Unique specimens worth several thousand dollars are placed among boxes of mint specimens, tourist knick-knacks, and simple things fashioned of fossils. Then you can proceed to the courtyard, which is scattered with stones and where the preparators operate. By the way, you can buy a fascinating unpatterned specimen right on their workbench, ripped out from under a chisel or dremel.
Although the presentation of the finds is lacking (for example, a massive slab of echinoderms worthy of the world’s best museums stands on crumpled newspapers right on the tiled floor), the museum is extremely interesting and impressive with its unique collections, and the lack of a glass barrier between the finds and the viewer allows one to get a much closer look at the world of Moroccan Fossils.