The story of coprolites stretches back far into prehistory. Coprolites were first noticed in ancient civilisations and much later scientifically described, somewhat further back than the Jurassic Park movie scene when Laura Dern’s character Ellie Sattler had her hands, elbows deep in Triceratops (herbivore dinosaur), dung! Check out our collection of fossilised Coprolites.
Another tenacious women Mary Anning C.1799-1847 put dung on the map for paleontological science, or to be precise under the nose of William Buckland, Dean of Westminster, C.1784-1856. The modern science of studying coprolites, dung, poo or faeces was initiated with Mary’s incredible clarity of mind and her exceptional perceptions. Mary noticed bezoar stones (belly stones), found in the Ichthyosaurs fossilised stomach remains she unearthed from the limestone rock layers of the Dorset coast on the now famous Jurassic coast of England, near and around Charmouth and Lyme Regis. Mary, the mother of palaeontology (as we like to refer to her), observed that the bezoar stones once split open contained the shards of larger bones, fish scales, even smaller bones of other juvenile ichthyosaurs. Mary presented the findings to Buckland who took ownership of the discovery and later coined the name coprolite in 1829. Buckland noted that ridges on some coprolites were similar to the intestine tracks of todays sharks and he preposed the blackened hue of some coprolites was caused be ingesting cephalopods with ink sacks, these similar to modern day squids. This logical observation has proven the theory of cannibalism among these once ferocious Triassic to Cretaceous period marine reptiles. Coprolites were now firmly established on the map of palaeontological science. Buckland’s later research looked at various coprolite deposits of England. The findings written into papers on the habitat and the environments enjoyed by successive generations of fauna, in particular the Kirkdale caves, which he hypothesised had been a hyena den, to quote Buckland.
These various formations our Coprolites form records of warfare, waged by successive generations of inhabitants of our planet on one another: the imperishable phosphate of lime, derived from their digested skeletons, has become embalmed in the substance and foundations of the everlasting hills; and the general law of Nature which bids all to eat and be eaten in their turn”
The invading Romans understood the importance of fertilisers during their occupation of Great Britain in 43-410AD. Being themselves great gardeners and agriculturalist they had to deal with the clay and chalk soils of England. The Romans added sand to clay and clay to chalk and also knew the importance of phosphates. It is not an established fact or precisely known when farmers used bone, fish and seaweed to add to the land to encourage the crops, however this could have been developed in those Roman times.
Bones and coprolite were a rich and desirable resource to agriculture in the nineteenth century, by 1850 it was becoming big business. In the green acreage of Britain, in the county of Cambridgeshire and Suffolk a layer which eventually was to be found to extend as far as Europe was excavated for its rich source of phosphates. the layer contained the resources of countless animals which had perished and been petrified forming continental layers. this was diligently exhumed from around 1850 - 1890 making England the leading producer of fertilisers. Fisons were the largest company that profited from these endeavours. Teams of coprolite diggers had their favourite haunts and hostelries to spend their new found wealth in. The industry of the coprolites is fascinating and by the nineteenth century, they were a massive workforce whom sole gains were reportedly their wage packet at the end of each week, which then often found its way into the many hostelries, company cooperative shops and accommodations in the vicinity of the veins of exhumations. By the turn of the 20th century competition was hotting up. Bones from as far flung and improbable climbs as Egypt (mummified cats and bodies), bison bones from the North American plains, skeletons from the battlefields of eastern Europe (the Crimea), were required to give up there resources for the production of calcium phosphate in fertilisers. skeletons from the catacombs have been reportedly exported to create phosphate, as the market grew to fertilise the green and pleasant land of the English countryside. Eventually competition from North America extinguished the English production of phosphate, which by 1915 failed and was a pale reminder of what had gone before. From this time the world was quite literally scoured for bones for further productions however this market slowly decreased.
Our 'thefossilstore.com' teams during many expeditions in North Africa have been fascinated to discover exceptional fossil coprolite material from many fossil beds skirting the border of Algeria and Morocco, the Tegana formation, province de Kasr-es-Souk, Kem Kem. These fossil beds known as the red beds form part of a series of small scale digs on the Hamada or plateaux between the two countries, fossil digs in the main organised by individual Berber fossil hunters. These indigenous people of the North African deserts have resided here for thousands of years. For centuries before the 7th century when overrun by Arabs from the east. The Berbers became a non ruling class of the society, the Arab community gained the powerhouse of rule, offices of state, palaces and kingdoms. This left the less productive waste of the desert regions. Berbers pushed to the edges of these arid and seemingly unproductive spaces, the Berbers settled into their routines, a nomadic existence was not a hardship, it was a familiar way of life, something to be endured and conquered. Fast forward several hundred years and you will still see the Berbers flourishing in the hard environments of the Western Sahara, the area we most visit and work within today. The wheel of life has continued to turn and produce for the Berbers of this region a new way of life.
In the last quarter of the twentieth century the area particularly near Erfoud and Rissanni became a hotspot for french academics to study geology and fossils. Since partition 1956 when France passed over the enclave of Morocco to independence and the King Mohammed V and subsequently to Hussain II and his son Mohammed VI the Berbers have enjoyed freedom in the lands of Southern Morocco, to work and develop the desert regions with a certain amount of autonomy. This has led to an enormous interest in fossil excavations in the region.
We have first hand knowledge of the events leading up to the local explosion of the industry in the area, we subcequently work with the families involved in the first fossil seeking expeditions of that time. Geologist from France encouraged local inhabitants to look for fossils. M’Bark was a eldest son of a local Berber family. M’Bark encouraged his community in the nineteen seventies to aid in the search and collection of fossils for the following year when the scientists had promised to return, they did return and the process has been repeated over many years and so the local fossil business was born. This part of the Merzane clans helped to build the active fossil industry which today and in recent times has led to new discoveries beyond palaeontological expectations, such discoveries as super Sarcosuchus, Spinosaurus , Carcharodontosaurus, Deltadromeus Agilis to name but a few of the extraordinary dinosaurian finds from this region.
We have been fortunate enough for many years to work along side M’Bark and his family, to traverse the dessert to eke out the nomads and fossil diggers of the region, to be welcomed and to bivouac in the Sahara discovering their latest finds. We still are privileged to be accepted and be involved in the traditional Berber community, which leads us to our goals of fossil findings in the field. Our latest coprolites in our dinosaur section are from the workings of this region. Displaying the typical colours and depositional consistences which make this hotspot of dinosaur fossils a must have fossil for any collector. undoubtedly the red beds of Morocco are among the most well known and important formation for collecting, from the celebrated dinosaur hunter Paul Sereno at the Museum of Chicago, to your local geological society these fossils are desirable, for the extent of preservation, interest and study knowledge they contain.