At only few kilometers
from Byblos (Jbeil), 3 villages Haqil,
have gained international renown thanks to their quarries rich with
wonderful fossils: fish, crustaceans, starfish, etc
state of conservation of these fossils here is almost unique and
highly compete with the sites of Monte Bolea in Italy, Solnhofen
in Germany and Green-River in the United States.
A history of the
discovery and the study of the sites
written evidence of the subject dates back to the 4th century AC. Eusebe de
Césarée, Bishop of Palestine, evokes these mysterious stones
found at the highest peaks of Lebanon and considers them as the witnesses of
The most famous mention of these sites probably appears in the writings
of one Sire de Joinville
who recounts how a fossil fish was presented to the king St. Louis
during one of his crusades to the Middle East. Later, numerous study
missions (French, Italian, German and American) followed to carry
out excavations and publish scientific works.
homeland of these fossils was the Thethys sea (the Mediterranean sea), which
covered a large part of the Mediterranean countries and the Lebanese territory,
220 million years ago. The fossil animals, which we currently find in these
sites, lived by the coastline at low depth (between 2 and 200m) only 100
million years ago, precisely in the Cenomanian age. The presence of these
numerous animals, well kept (without post-mortem displacement) at the same
level, indicates a sudden and simultaneous death than can be described as such:
after heavy rains, microscopic animals and plants (plankton) developed on the
water surface, sometimes changing the color of the sea which turned thus
reddish or greenish. Such a phenomenon is currently witnessed on some coasts
and is known by the name of "waterbloom". Not only does this plankton use all
the oxygen in the seawater, but it also releases substances that poison sea
animals and cause their sudden death. Fish and crustaceans thus brutally die
and sink to the bottom of the sea in large numbers. The fossilization
conditions of that period were excellent: an oxygen-deprived sea bottom (this
is why we do not find fossil mollusk) and a fast deposit of sediments on the
bodies which do not have the time to decompose and are thus entirely
But how do
these marine sites appear in the mountains? Following a movement of continental
plaques accompanied by a drop of sea level, the land, which currently
constitutes Lebanon, appeared and the mountains, Mount Lebanon in particular,
were formed. Erosion later revealed the layers where the fish originally were
and which sometimes appeared at mountain height. The fish that we find are of
incredible beauty and dazzling colors due to the presence of mineral salt in
the sediments ranging from red, blue, green to brown.
and fossil studies
Lebanese families guard this treasure; they do their best to preserve the sites
by using, as excavation equipment, only manual tools such as hammers, chisels,
picks and spades and by avoiding all what can damage the stone or its
"inhabitants". Experience has a key role to play in excavations. It is possible
to detect the presence of fossil fish through minor signs alike shade changes,
cracks and swellings in the rock. The role of luck in this hunting is not to be
neglected either: sometimes we dig for days without finding a fossil and
sometimes one simple stroke of chisels is sufficient to unveil a whole epoch of
the Earth's history.
constantly receives the visit of scientists and collaborates with several
museums as well as national and international universities including: -The
national Museum of Beirut, the Lebanese Direction of Antiquities that
co-founded a fossil museum in Jbeil with the help of UNESCO.
University and the American University of Beirut in Lebanon.
History Museum of London, in Great Britain.
-The University of Lyon 1 in
Importance of fish fossils sites in Lebanon
In our fossil
sites, we find hundreds of fish species including rays, sharks, sardines,
flying fish, and the famous coelacanthe, the "living fossil" which is
considered to be the oldest known fish that still lives till our days (on the
coastline of the Comoros islands). Next to these fish, others species lived
alike squids, shrimps, starfish which are now fossils with a unique
Not only are fish and crustaceans well kept thanks to
their fossilization mode, but the limestone beds in which they are found can be
extracted through the transfer method (insertion in polyester resin and
attacking the gangue with acid). The preparation method allows a thorough and
global study of the specimens.
Few sites in
the world offer a diversity such as the one displayed in the Lebanese sites
that are an extraordinary sample of the Mediterranean region at that epoch (100
million years ago). Among the fish, some exist till now while others
disappeared long time ago. Certain fish, alike the eels, appear first in
Lebanese sites. It is interesting to discover their past shape and way of life
in order to understand their evolution.
alike many others, are the living witnesses of life's history and evolution.
That life that gave us two million species in three billion years in addition
to 8 million other non-identified or studied species till now.