Some 350million years ago, this entire region was under the sea, the remains of which can be seen in the petrified coral reefs along the dry river bed at Tissardmine where ammonites, trilobites and belennites abound.
On 18th July 2011 a meteorite from Mars landed 350kms from Tissardmine, it is still possible to find small fragments from this meteorite.
Ancient local rock cravings depict Rhino, Giraffe and Elephants.
Erg Chebbi, the giant dune that dominates the landscape was formed over thousands of years and today stands at 150meters at it’s highest point and is 20kms long and 5kms wide. This natural phnomenon is steeped in legend; the story goes that more than 5,000 years ago there was a large lake where families lived, but these families were bad people who angered the gods. As a result the gods sent a strong wind that brought so much sand, the lake disappeared and as each year passed more and more sand built up to create a giant network of dunes burying the people beneath. Locals say that on a quiet night inside the dunes, if you listen carefully, you can still hear their voices…
In the daytime, you are most likely to see Camels, donkeys, goats, sheep and other domestic animals roaming the landscape but at night the desert comes alive as the smaller creatures come out from their subterranean sand bunkers to hunt in the cooler temperatures; the sand fish, sidewinder snake, desert fox, jumping mouse, rolling spider, long finger gecko and gerbil.
Some information for those interested in geology…
The area around Tissardmine is a geologist’s dream, with conglomerates and fossiliferous limestones from the Ordovician, Silurian and Devonian rising everywhere above the desert sand – remnants of a shallow sea and coastline over 300 million years old. Walk just a few hundred metres from your tent and you’ll find yourself on a Devonian seabed, with orthocerads right under your feet!
This area is also famous as the trilobite capital of the world, because nowhere else can these paleozoic creatures be found in such abundance and so well preserved. Cleaning up these fossils with painstaking precision is a local industry – many shops will sell you beautifully preserved trilobite fossils at a fraction of the price you’d pay at fossil markets in Europe or North America.
Or you can fossick yourself. Northeast of Rissani on the R702 are at least four good fossil-collecting sites. Behind the Bou Teharafine is a ridge called Hamar Lagdad, where Devonian fossil-rich sedimentary rocks are exposed – trilobites, goniatites, orthoceras, corals and crinoids (Scyphocrinites elegans).
A potted geological history
From 400 to 300 millions years ago Tissardmine was off the northern coast of Africa, submerged under a body of water known as the Rheic ocean. Corals and other marine organisms thrived in this warm water environment, leaving their empty shells and skeletons to fossilize when they died. Rivers flowed into the shallow sea, leaving deposits of congolmerate and sand.
All this time, Africa was moving northwards, pushing the continental shelf ahead of itself. Then it collided with a collection of smaller crustal plates that would one day combine to form Europe. The Rheic Ocean was squeezed in this collision, thrusting up the thick layers of sediment into a mountain chain. This was to become the Antiatlas range, the first in a series of mountain-building movements that would culminate in the Atlas mountains, futher north.
The folding and faulting that ensued has left these ancient seabed sediments exposed, along with all the fossils they contain.