Category Archives: MOROCCO

7-foot-long arthropods commanded the sea 470 million years ago, ‘exquisite’ fossils show

7-foot-long arthropods commanded the sea 470 million years ago, ‘exquisite’ fossils show

7-foot-long arthropods commanded the sea 470 million years ago, 'exquisite' fossils show
Fossils from the Fezouata Shale. From left to right, a non-mineralized arthropod (Marrellomorpha), a palaeoscolecid worm and a trilobites.

Exquisitely preserved fossils in Morocco suggest that some of the earliest arthropods were nearly 7 feet (2 meters) long — gigantic in comparison with the shrimps, insects, and spiders that are descendants of these early invertebrates, according to a new study.

Researchers made the discovery while exploring the site, known as Taichoute, which is part of the Fezouata Shale, a swath of fossil deposits dating to the Lower Ordovician period (485 million to 470 million years ago) that was discovered in 2017.

Now part of the Moroccan desert, Taichoute was completely undersea millions of years ago.

Prior to the exploration of Taichoute, the closest Moroccan fossil sites were near Zagora, a town 50 miles (80 kilometers) away, where giant arthropods make up roughly 1% to 2% of the total fossil material.

At Taichoute, nearly half of the fossils are of these jumbo creatures, according to the study.

“All of our previous knowledge on the Fezouata Shale was solely based on fossil sites near the Zagora region,” Farid Saleh, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, told Live Science in an email.

“The dominance of large arthropods in Taichoute is unique. You can possibly find [many specimens] in one day.”

“These arthropods were active swimmers and dominated this area 470 million years ago,” Saleh said. “Some of these arthropods were described before, but there’s a good number of new species.”

While researchers are currently identifying the roughly 70 specimens collected from the fossil beds during the dig, they unearthed multiple examples of Aegirocassis, an extinct genus of filter-feeding arthropods. They were also “free-swimmers and could move any way they wanted to in the water,” Saleh said.

Being entombed in the mud-caked fossil beds for millions of years has led to the “exquisite preservation of [the] fossils,” Saleh said. In some cases, even soft parts of the animals, including their internal organs, were preserved.

While the upper portions of their external shells were well preserved overall, “they’ve been fragmented to some extent, because they were transported by underwater landslides prior to their preservation.”

Researchers think they have barely scratched the surface of what could be lurking in the Fezouata Shale.

“There’s a lot to do in Taichoute,” Saleh said, “and more fieldwork will bring a lot more in the future.” 

The findings were published Dec. 13 in the journal Scientific Reports.

Giant 66-Million-Year-Old Marine Reptile Found in Morocco

Giant 66-Million-Year-Old Marine Reptile Found in Morocco

Researchers in Morocco have discovered a huge new mosasaur fossil called Thalassotitan aatrox that fills the super-hunter niche. With huge jaws and teeth like those of killer whales, the Thalassotitan preyed on other marine reptiles, plesiosaurs, sea turtles, and other mosasaurs.

It is known that at the end of the Cretaceous period, 66 million years ago, sea monsters really existed. While dinosaurs grew up on land, the seas were dominated by mosasaurs, giant marine reptiles.

Giant 66-Million-Year-Old Marine Reptile Found in Morocco
A researcher with a mosasaur fossil.

Mosasaurs weren’t dinosaurs, they were huge marine reptiles that grew up to 12 meters long. They are known as distant relatives of modern iguanas and monitor lizards.

Mosasaurs looked like a Komodo dragons, with fins instead of legs and a shark-like tail fin. Mosasaurs became larger and more specialized during the last 25 million years of the Cretaceous, taking up niches once populated by marine reptiles such as plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs.

Some have evolved to eat tiny prey such as fish and squid. Others ate ammonites and oysters. The newly discovered mosasaur, named Thalassotitan atrox, evolved to prey on all other marine reptiles.

The remains of the new species were excavated in Morocco, about an hour from Casablanca. Here, towards the end of the Cretaceous, the Atlantic had flooded northern Africa.

The nutrient-rich waters rising from the depths feed the plankton. They feed the small fish, they feed the bigger fish. These large fish preyed upon mosasaurs and plesiosaurs. These marine reptiles become food for the giant, carnivorous Thalassotitan.

Thalassotitan had a gigantic 1.4-metre-long skull, reaching nearly 9 meters in length, the size of a killer whale. While most mosasaurs had long jaws and fine teeth for catching fish, Thalassotitan had short, broad, and large, conical teeth like an orca. These allowed it to catch and shred large prey.

These adaptations suggest that Thalassotitan was a super predator that stood at the top of the food chain. The giant mosasaur occupied the same ecological niche as modern-day killer whales and great white sharks.

Thalassotitan’s teeth were often broken and worn, but eating fish does not cause this type of tooth wear. Thus, the giant mosasaur appears to have attacked other marine reptiles, breaking its teeth while biting and smashing their bones. Some teeth were so badly damaged that they were crushed almost to the root.

Size comparison of Thalassotitan atrox.

Possible remains of Thalassotitan’s victims have been discovered. Fossils from the same deposits bear acid-induced damage. Among these, strangely damaged fossils were found large predatory fish, a sea turtle, a half-metre-long plesiosaur head, and the jaws and skulls of at least three different mosasaur species. They must have been digested in Thalassotitan’s stomach before spitting out his bones.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Nick Longrich says, “This is circumstantial evidence. It is unlikely that we can say with certainty which animal species ate all these other mosasaurs. However, we have the bones of marine reptiles killed and eaten by a large predators. And in the same place, we find Thalassotitan, a species that fits the profile of the killer – a mosasaur specialized for preying on other marine reptiles. This is probably not a coincidence.”

Thalassotitan poses a threat to everything in the oceans, including other Thalassotitans. The huge mosasaurs have wounds inflicted in fierce combat with other mosasaurs. Other mosasaurs bore similar injuries, but these wounds were extremely common on Thalassotitan, suggesting frequent, intense fights over feeding grounds or mates.

Dr. Nick Longrich says, “The Thalassotitan is known to be an incredible, frightening animal.” Imagine a mix of killer whale, T. rex, great white shark and Komodo Dragon.”

Distribution map of Thalassotitan.

The newly discovered mosasaur lived in the last million years of the Age of Dinosaurs, a contemporary of animals like T. rex and Triceratops. Recent discoveries of mosasaurs in Morocco show that mosasaurs were not in decline before the asteroid impact that triggered the Cretaceous mass extinction.

Professor Nour-Eddine Jalil, one of the authors of the article, from the Paris Museum of Natural History, said: “The phosphate fossils from Morocco provide a unique example of paleobiodiversity at the end of the Cretaceous.” They describe how life was rich and diverse just before the end of the ‘dinosaur age’, when animals had to specialize in order to gain a foothold in their ecosystems. Thalassotitan completes the picture by taking on the role of mega-hunter at the top of the food chain.”

Longrich said, “There is still much to be done. Morocco has one of the most diverse marine fauna known from the Cretaceous. We are beginning to understand the diversity and biology of mosasaurs today.”

Shell beads found in Moroccan caves are at least 142,000 years old

Shell beads found in Moroccan caves are at least 142,000 years old

From ancient beads to modern bling, jewellery has allowed humans to make statements for millennia. Now, reports Ann Gibbons for Science magazine, a new analysis of beads found in Morocco offers a clearer picture of how long people have been making these fashion pronouncements: at least 142,000 to 150,000 years.

Shell beads found in Moroccan caves are at least 142,000 years old
Believed to be the world’s oldest jewellery, the perforated shells date to about 142,000 years ago.

Writing in the journal Science Advances, the researchers date 33 small seashells bored with holes to that timeframe—around 10,000 to 20,000 years earlier than previously recorded.

Discovered in Bizmoune Cave, the prehistoric jewellery shows how early humans communicated information about themselves to others.

“They were probably part of the way people expressed their identity with their clothing,” says study co-author Steven L. Kuhn, an archaeologist at the University of Arizona, in a statement.

“Wearing beads has to do with meeting strangers, expanding social networks,” Kuhn tells Science. “You don’t have to signal your identity to your mother or whether you’re married to your husband or wife.”

Per the study, the seashells were found in a deposited layer dated to at least 142,000 years ago, extending the earliest records of this type of human activity from the Middle Stone Age into the late Middle Pleistocene period.

“[O]rnaments such as beads are among the earliest signs of symbolic behaviour among human ancestors,” the paper states. “Their appearance signals important developments in both cognition and social relations.”

The discovery suggests that humans in North Africa were making ornaments long before their peers in other parts of Africa and Asia.

Archaeologists recovered the 33 beads from a cave in western Morocco.

“While similar specimens have been found elsewhere in northwestern Africa, these examples extend their range to the far western edge of present-day Morocco, providing evidence for when and where ancient populations may have been connected over large geographic regions and allowing us to refine the mode and tempo of modern human origins,” Teresa Steele, an anthropologist at the University of California, Davis, who was not involved in the study, tells Nature Middle East’s, Rieko Kawabata.

Unearthed between 2014 and 2018, the ancient jewellery was made from perforated shells of the mollusc Tritia gibbosula. All but one of the snail shells was found in the same layer of ash, which also included stone tools and animal bones.

The researchers dated the beads by measuring uranium decay in mineral deposits found in that same layer. Their analysis pinpointed the shells’ modification to between 120,000 and 171,000 years ago, with 142,000 years old as the jewellery’s likely minimum age.

According to the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), the earliest forms of jewellery were made from shells, stone and bone. Prehistoric people likely wore such adornments “as a protection from the dangers of life or as a mark of status or rank.”


The Moroccan beads join a growing body of millennia-old jewellery analyzed by archaeologists. In 2017, for instance, researchers on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi found a polished pendant crafted from the finger bone of a bear cuscus.

More recently, a team investigating the Qafzeh Cave in Israel discovered 120,000-year-old shells strung on a necklace as beads.

“It’s one thing to know that people were capable of making [jewellery],” says Kuhn in the statement, “but then the question becomes, ‘OK, what stimulated them to do it?’”

Bone Tools in Morocco May Be Earliest Evidence of Clothing

Bone Tools in Morocco May Be Earliest Evidence of Clothing

Humans living on the Atlantic coast of what’s now Morocco were making clothes from animal hides between 120,000 and 90,000 years ago, according to a new study.

Initially, researchers assumed the bones they were collecting were the remnants of an ancient meal. Scientists wanted to analyze the animal bones to better understand what Contrebandiers Cave’s early human inhabitants were eating.

But instead of evidence of an ancient menu, researchers found the remnants of clothes-making tools. Scientists detailed the breakthrough discovery in a new paper, published Thursday in the journal iScience.

“These bone tools have shaping and use marks that indicate they were used for scraping hides to make leather and for scraping pelts to make fur,” lead study author Emily Hallett said in a press release.

“At the same time, I found a pattern of cut marks on the carnivore bones from Contrebandiers Cave that suggested that humans were not processing carnivores for meat but were instead skinning them for their fur,” said Hallett, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany.

Fossils suggest humans were using bone tools to manufacture clothes in Morocco’s Contrebandiers Cave some 120,000 years ago.

In order to tell the story of human evolution, scientists must understand how early humans adapted and exploited new environs.

For the earliest migrants, survival demanded more than just food and shelter. To exploit cooler environs, humans needed protection from the elements — they needed clothes.

On the floor of the Contrebandiers Cave, researchers found evidence that humans were manipulating bones to craft tools used for manufacturing pelts and other pieces of clothing.

In total, researchers collected 60 bones that had been ground, smoothed and polished into uniform shapes for scraping and softening animal hides.

Scientists also recovered the remains of sand foxes, golden jackals and wildcats, all with marks suggesting humans had purposefully removed their skins.

“The combination of carnivore bones with skinning marks and bone tools likely used for fur processing provide highly suggestive proxy evidence for the earliest clothing in the archaeological record,” said Hallett.

“But given the level of specialization in this assemblage, these tools are likely part of a larger tradition with earlier examples that haven’t yet been found,” Hallett said.

Hallett and her colleagues also recovered the tip of an ancient cetacean tooth, which scientists determine had also been manipulated by early humans.

It’s the first time researchers have recovered the remains of a Late Pleistocene marine mammal from North Africa. The fossil serves as the earliest evidence of humans using the teeth of marine mammals.

“The Contrebandiers Cave bone tools demonstrate that by roughly 120,000 years ago, Homo sapiens began to intensify the use of bone to make formal tools and use them for specific tasks, including leather and fur working,” Hallett said.

“This versatility appears to be at the root of our species, and not a characteristic that emerged after expansions into Eurasia,” Hallett said.