Illegal Trading Degrades World’s Largest Fossil Museum

An area that has been called the “largest open air fossil museum in the world” located near the eastern desert town of Erfoud, Morocco is under threat from illegal fossil traders, reports Art Daily.

Scientists warn that excessive excavation and insufficient controls on fossil trading is causing irreversible damage to Erfoud’s archaeological heritage. The fossils at the site formed several hundred million years ago, when the region was under the sea. According to locals, the 100-square-kilometer (40-square-mile) area surrounding Erfoud contains approximately 500 different varieties of fossils. Some are as old as 410 to 500 million years.

The people of Erfoud rely on the fossil trade to make a living. Many collectors from around the world visit the town to add to their prehistoric collections.

According to Lachen Kabiri, professor at the local University of Errachidia, excessive excavation and the sale of fossils at bargain prices is damaging conservation efforts. Prices for fossils begin at just €300 ($380) for small pieces. “Erfoud is world famous but its scientific development is lacking,” Kabiri told Art Daily.

Erfoud’s fossil reserves are protected by UNESCO and an international agreement signed in 1970 prohibiting the export of fossils from the region. However, these statutes have rarely been properly enforced, and many of the fossils end up at markets and bazaars across Morocco. Some have even been traced to museums in Europe and the US.

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