Ancient fish fossils are part of Lebanon’s hidden history

BEIRUT: In the heart of Hakel lay millions of Lebanese fossils that a passerby on the highway would find easy to miss.

The village is situated in the highlands of the district of Jbeil (Byblos), 650 meters above sea level and 57 Km away from Beirut. There Charbel Nohra owns a family business that has been doing marine fossil hunting for the last half century.

This is alongside running a small sales museum.

“It’s a family business that has been going on for generations, since the 1970s,” said Nohra. It is open seven days a week from 9 am to 5 pm in winter and to 7 pm in summer.

But how did the marine fossils get there, above sea level?

Quite simple, Nohra answers – the location of Hakel village used to be underwater, a 100 million years ago. This was also the age of dinosaurs, of which there are very few archaeological discoveries in Lebanon, where fossilized remains of the “terrible great lizards” can be found.

Finding fossils is totally up to chance the Hakel digger noted, sometimes digging for hours allows the Nohra family to find one up to three fish, and at other times, 15-minutes into the dig, hundreds of fossils are found in the same spot.

The process constitutes using a hammer on the rocks smoothly and cracking them open in order to discover the history that lies beneath them. Charbel Nohra is joined by Yussef his son working the rocks daily, looking for the unique and the very, very, ancient.

Since no local fossil experts exist, the Nohra family sends selected fossils abroad to Italy and England where specialists examine the rock and type of fish.

“Those fossils are about 80 million to 100 million years old,” Nohra told Annahar.

The starting price that the family set is $10, while knowing that these fossils are conserved in museums abroad or sold for a price that can go up to two-hundred thousand dollars.

Sadly, the town of Hakel, located only about 15 minutes from Amchit’s highway doesn’t get many tourists even though it is a very serene spot and beautiful for road trips on a sunny weekend. In addition to local fossils hunting and sheep herding, the view of the Mediterranean is superb.

Other fossil sites in Lebanon include Sahel Alma and Hajoula. The strata date to the Cenomanian Stage of the middle Cretaceous. The remains found are displayed in natural history, geology, and paleontology museums around the world.

While Lebanon is best known for fish fossils, also available is a wide diversity of other marine life, particularly invertebrates such as shrimps.

Some fossils date back to the Jurassic period (which began 145 million years ago) and others belong to the Miocene through the Pleistocene (which began 1.8 million years ago).

For antiquity lovers, fossils can be bought online for a price ranging from $49 to $645 on FossilEra, (a website that sources and ships from across the globe, including a category exclusively offering Lebanese fossils). There, some of the most delicate fossil fish can be bought. The collection includes sharks, shrimps, swordfish, and more.

In the meanwhile, Hakel and similar spots await adventurous travelers looking to see history first hand.

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