Exploring Ancient Fossil Records in Dagestan
Streams and rivers without number cut through the ravines of Dagestan’s sharp mountain peaks. Crouching down next to any one of them, Omar Hapisov can lift a rock from the riverbed and identify the geological layers of rock in the steep ridges above him. He’s been searching these rock layers since he was a boy, always in search of some unique fossil discovery.
Dagestanis are by nature concerned about the preservation of their culture and traditions. They hold tightly to the ways of their ancestors. But no one is reaching further back into Dagestani history than Omar. He has made it his life’s focus to search for, collect and share with others the fossil record of his native Dagestan.
The Ichthyosaurus is a dolphin-like dinosaur from the Jurassic period.
Sharks Teeth and Dinosaurs
By profession Omar – an Avar from the Levanshinsky region of Dagestan – is a beekeeper, a shepherd and a carpenter. But what he is passionate about is paleontology. “Nature has preserved for us what God created,” he said. “Our task is to love that nature and look closely in order to find the gifts left behind for us.”
In his self-constructed museum, he displays thousands of fossils that he and a small group of friends have found in their home region of Levanshinsky and from mountainous areas throughout Dagestan. To survey the shelves of Omar’s museum is to be taken deep into the history of Dagestan. Among the fossils are shark teeth, thousands of massive nautiluses, perfectly preserved fish, 4-foot-long sea turtle flippers, and even a nearly fully intact Ichthyosaurus – like a dolphin but dinosauric with big teeth – geologists say is from the early Jurassic period.
Dagestan is an exceptional terrain for paleontology, as the Tethys Sea that once covered much of Eurasia also covered Dagestan. Due to geological shifting in the subterranean plates, the Caucasus mountain range slowly rose from the area just west of what is now the Caspian Sea.
In the small area of Dagestan, which is about the size of the state of Tennessee, low foothills rise from the steppe climbing all the way to the highest peaks of central Dagestan in excess of 3000 meters. As this shifting occurred, layers of sediment were left behind that held fossil records from many different periods of geological development. According to Omar, there are few places in the world where so many different periods of geological history can be studied in such a concentrated geographic area.
Nature has preserved for us what God created
Omar’s Origin Story
Omar eventually gave up his childhood hobby but picked it up again when the internet finally reached the mountains about 15 years ago. He started to read about paleontological work in other parts of the world and found time to explore when he was tending his beehives in the hills outside of his village. “I began to realize my childhood dream with the appearance of the internet,” he said.
A nearly perfectly preserved fish fossil from the mountains of Dagestan
Omar found this 4-foot long ancient sea turtle flipper near his home in Dagestan
Something to Build On
“Money that I could spend on my kids or other things – for the sake of Dagestan, for the future history of Dagestan, I sacrifice on this [the museum],” he said. “What I have done is a foundation for others in the future to develop … may others take it further than I have.”
The key resting on top of this ancient Ammonite fossil shows the impressive size of these now extinct sea creatures. Ammonites are the most numerous species in Omar’s collection
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