October 27, 2012


I went hunting very early this morning. 
Hunting isn’t really my thing; I don’t like killing animals, I don’t eat birds, and there are hardly any left to validate the sport. The thought of getting up at five in the morning to drive to some remote mountain top wasn't quite appealing either. But the particular area where they were going to hunt is known for fossils. Actually, I think most regions in Lebanon have fossils, but in this place, they’re just all over the ground. And so along I tagged, because I felt like fossil hunting.

Beqaa Valley, still covered by clouds

 When we got there, the sun was just getting up from behind the Anti-Lebanon Range; fog was still on the ground. This place was once occupied by the Syrian army. A large group of tanks was dug in here, and because of their digging, the soil has been worked over quite nicely. In comes a little rain, and there’s fossilized clams all over the place. How do these sea shells get on the mountain top? Obviously this place once used to be at the bottom of a tropical ocean, during the Jurassic time (200 -144 million years ago). Most of Lebanon is Jurassic limestone. Eventually plate tectonics forced these pieces of land upwards, and there we are; seashells at the mountain top. 

Those clams, bivalves I think they’re officially called, are the most common fossils of this period. Jurassic is known for its abundance in dinosaurs, but since we were a sea, no dinosaur bones here. Lebanon does have a lot of fish fossils , but in this area it’s only clams and an occasional gastropod (or slug, for you mortals :)   (click here for more in Lebanon’s geology )

The place is not really used for anything. Although there seems to be plenty of water, there’s little agriculture, and only shepherds use the land for grazing their herds. And while the others hunted for birds (it’s quite an awful sound when they’re eaten. Since they’re so small, you’ve got to eat them bones and all, and they make this horrendous crunching sound, a bit like chewing on fresh radishes), I was with my hunting dog on the look-out for fossils. It had been raining the night before, and soil erosion is quite rampant here, so all you need to do is look for a little cliff or ridge, and just pick them out; the soil is strewn with them.  

I ran into a shepherd and his herd of mixed sheep and goats. He had some dogs with him, and a boy with a donkey. He asked me what I was picking up. I showed him my stone shells. “Those are from the sea. A long time the sea was this high,” and he waved all across the mountain tops. And although not altogether accurate, I thought that was pretty insightful. “They’re all over the place". He should know; he walks these fields day-in day-out. I should check on E-bay whether they’re worth anything. Maybe he could start a side business.

I have a soft spot for donkeys. I hike with them every summer, and the plan (well, one of the plans) is to buy myself a donkey one day and hike Santiago de Compostella, and other GRs as well .   I thought I saw the distinct red and white marking  that signals a GR on the path today, but only realized it later, and made no picture of it. Maybe I should go back and check it out. It would be awesome if we’d have these trails  here as well. People have travelled the Middle East for eons; there just have to be old walking paths still in existence. 

His sheep were pretty curious. Or are they goats? Can’t tell. They’ve got goat faces, but sheep skins. The colors of the region are stunning. Or maybe it was the light of the day. It was around 7:00 AM here. It's been a while since I was out in the field that early. It was a very satisfying feeling though, still had the WHOLE day in front of me. 

And so while the hunters came home with some birds, this is my loot; some five kilos of fossilized clam shells and a few gastropods. What will I do with them? I don’t know yet. I am open to ideas. Tomorow I am trying another area, see what that brings me.



Anonymous said...

no Trilobites, or Echmatocrinus? And what about Olenoides, did you see any? Another lesson....

Sietske said...

Hmmm, waarom heb ik toch het idee dat Ysbrand dat commentaar achter liet . . . . ?

Svetlana said...

Hi . Came to your blog via expats.com . Really liked it . Very humorous and interesting ! Photos are amazing . Thank you for sharing your experience.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for an interesting article and photos of fossils. My grandson and I are interested in fossils, and have an interesting collection. I would surely appreciate it if you tell me about the name of the area you were in where the shepherd and his goats were. I would like to take my grandchildren to collect some fossils.