Afghan Arabia Wild
In all of my travels I have never encountered fossil beds as rich and abundant as those in Saudi Arabia. There is no need to dig or even search very hard; artifacts of ancient animals litter the ground. I have actually stumbled over remains of ancient coral. Entire hillsides and cliffs there are composed of fossils. The Riyadh Escarpment where I spent the bulk of my time is especially rich in pre-historic remains of sea life. I've seen thousands of acres of the desert floor covered with fossils; these ancient coral beds must have been an astounding site! The Arabian Peninsula was, obviously, at one time submerged beneath the sea. As the land mass broke away from the African continent it rose above the water. In the Riyadh area life fossils predominate, but elsewhere on the peninsula an array of fossils have been found that range from ancient mammals to early hominids.
I was not exaggerating when I stated that I stumbled over fossils. The coral branch above is an example. I found it laying exactly as it is photographed; the branches are as thick as a baseball bat. In the center picture the impressions left by the tiny creatures that made the coral are quite clear. The photo on the right is the side of small wadi about seven to eight feet high. Those dark brown spots that speckle the sand are pieces of coral fossils, each about the two fingers in size. Apparently an entire forest of coral "trees" once existed in this region.
Different types of coral fossils are found in each particular region. That entire hillside you see in the photograph on the left is a huge and solid deposit of the coral seen in the two pictures center and right. This kind of coral fossil deposit is often a vivid purple color; a striking and beautiful contrast to the usual desert beige.
Some examples of more familiar sea life fossils. An ammonite stands out clearly on the side of a rock face on the far left. The snail that once inhabited the shell next to the ammonite photo must have been a doozy; the fossil is as big as my fist. A large oyster shell of some kind it stands out distinctly. I have a couple of these oyster shell type fossils. One of them cracked in half and revealed the lovely crystalline filling you see on the right.
Several examples of other kinds of ancient sea life fossils. I have no idea what the one with the octopus like "suckers" on the left are. What you see is the size of a football. The thing that look likes a dinosaur tooth is not; the substance is not ivory. The thing is an interior part of a large sponge fossil. I found several of these oddities, each about an inch or so high and about as round as your thumb at its base hanging upside down under a small outcrop on the side of a cliff. The last example appears to be a fossil of some type of brain coral.
The "Pancake Coral" fossil on the left is the size of a dinner plate; it looked like some kind of gigantic mushroom. Next to it is what I believe to be a fossil of sponge. We found a number of these things. I do not know if the specimen on the right is a fossil or some rock type aberration. It is so distinctive in appearance and so different from the rocky terrain around it, that it caught my attention.
Fossils hold more surprises than you think at first glance. Examination of fossil surfaces often reveals these growths of tiny crystals unseen at first look. And as if fossil hunting in Saudi Arabia was not fascinating enough you just might find some petrified wood or one of the numerous geodes that scatter the area.
The scenery in parts of Saudi Arabia is unexpectedly spectacular. Sweeping cliffs from place in the Tuwayq Mountains called "The Edge of the World" look out over a vast desert landscape and appear to be a scene from Mars or some science fiction movie. That's me in the middle standing on the knife edge of rock that juts up from the desert floor in a national park called Thumamah. Two of my best friends and fellow ex-soldiers, Tony and Greg, stand in front of another dimension of the park - mysteriously beautiful caves with sugar sand floors.
Well if you don't want to run off and go fossil hunting in Saudi Arabia now then there has to be something wrong with you. But in case you need a little more enticement I'll leave you with this photo of yours truly posing in front of the biggest fossil I've ever seen in my life. Ancient sea plants, I believe.