Science & Fossils
Current geographical location:
Only a few kilometers to the east of the city of Byblos (Jbeil), lie 3 villages witnessing life’s evolution: Haqil, Hgula and En nammura have gained international renown thanks to their quarries rich in wonderful marine fossils: fish, crustaceans, starfish, etc… the extraordinary state of conservation of these fossils found there, 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:
The oldest written evidence of the subject dates back to the 4th century AD. Eusebe de Césarée, Bishop of Palestine, evokes these mysterious stones found at the highest peaks of Lebanon and considers them as the witnesses of Noah’s deluge.
The most famous mention of these sites probably appears in the writings of one Sire de Joinville who narrates 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
Genesis of the Sites:
The first 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 kept.
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
Excavation and fossil studies:
Nowadays, some 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 like 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.
Our family 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
- The Lebanese University and the American University of Beirut in Lebanon.
- The National History Museum of London, in Great Britain
- The University of Lyon 1 in France
The 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 coelacanth, 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 conservation state.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.
Almost no site in the world offers 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.Today, more than 400 species of fish, sea urchins, worms, bugs, plants are identified with more than 800 other species still not identified raising the total number of species found in the Lebanese sites to more than 1200 species.
Certain fish, like 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.These fossils, like many others, are the living witnesses of life’s history and evolution. A life that generated two million identified species in three billion years, in addition to 8 million other neither identified nor studied species till now.