Between 345 to 395 million years ago elongated and curly shaped sea creatures swam in a great inland sea in what is now Morocco. These creatures were a type of squid, and a vast number of them were permanently preserved for eternity as fossils, like snapshots captured in rock, when the sea suddenly dried up to become what is now the Sahara Desert.
Several decades ago, the area was discovered, now a flat vast plain, as a treasure trove of these fossils. The Moroccans began to mine it, and soon they sculpted pieces of the mined rock into functional and decorative works of art, including platters, bowls, trinket boxes and even tabletops.
Walter Hunt was one of the first Americans to recognize the value of the unusual Moroccan works, and has been selling them in his Fernandina Beach shop, Hunt’s Art & Artifacts, since he and his wife, Bernie, opened it in 1994 on Centre Street.
He discovered Morocco in 1972, when as a young man he vacationed there and ended up staying for months. He’s visited the fossil-mining area about 20 times. It is in Erfoud, across the Mediterranean Sea from the Rock of Gibraltar, and “beautiful,” he says. “Morocco is an unusual country,” he says, and importing from there “has allowed me to be an adventurer.”
The finely polished fossil platters that the Hunts sell are a fraction of the one-of-a kind items they have in their shop, fondly nicknamed “a cabinet of curiosities.” They have Celtic ring money circa 800 to 500 B.C.; jewelry from Nepal; 2,000-year-old ancient Roman coins; Coptic Ethiopian silver crosses circa 1850; Himalayan singing bowls and much, much more. The Hunts have formed personal relationships with jewelers, rug weavers, coin collectors, sculptors and artists from around the world, which is why their offerings are so unique.
The fossil platters are some of their most popular items, and Walter is proud that he has witnessed them being mined, hand-carved and polished.
The stone is cut from the mine in Morocco into slabs.
The slabs are then sawed, shaped into platters and hand polished.
First, workers cut huge chunks of rock, three to four feet thick and weighing tons, out of the earth and then form slabs. Some of the slabs are huge, and are used to make tables and counter tops, and some are sawed into smaller pieces to make hand-carved and polished items such as platters.
But they are difficult to keep in stock, Walter says. They aren’t your average platter, and are increasingly harder to acquire because more and more people are seeking them out.
“They are a good investment, because they are not making any more of them,” Walter says. Once the fossils are all mined, they will become even more precious. After all, the Straight Horn Squid and the Goniatite Squid that lived and died in that long ago vanished inland sea are long ago extinct.
For more information visit: huntsaaa.com