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LIBYA GEOLOGICAL MAP / OIL-PETROLEUM INDUSTRY: Geologic Map of the Kingdom of Libya Compiled by Louis C. Conant and Gus H. Goudarzi under the joint sponsorship of the Kingdom of Libya and the Agency for International Development, U. S. Department of State. / خريطة جيولوجية للمملكة الليبية


The first edition of the first comprehensive, scientifically accurate geological map of Libya, a grand, bilingual (English – Arabic) separately issued production primarily made to aid the country’s burgeoning oil industry; the result of a collaboration between Louis Conant and Gus Goudarzi, two of America’s most esteemed geologists, fulfilling a joint project of the U.S. State Department and the pro-Western Libyan regime of King Idris; the present example trimmed and mounted upon linen for professional field use.


Colour print, dissected into 24 sections and contemporarily trimmed and mounted upon bluish-grey linen, rendering it a ‘field piece for professional use’, with some text sections moved and repasted with title pasted to verso, some text including imprints, some Arabic text and headings trimmed away, original printed envelope not present (Very Good, clean and crisp while noting the extensive contemporary amendments to the map), 89 x 88 cm (35 x 34.5 inches).


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This very large format, separately issued work is the first edition of the first comprehensive and scientifically accurate geological map of Libya, the result of the collaboration of Louis Conant and Gus Goudarzi, two of America’s most respected geologists.  The map was jointly sponsored by the U. S. State Department’s Agency for International Development and the Kingdom of Libya’s Ministries of National Economy, Petroleum Affairs and Industry.  At the time, Libya was ruled by the ardently pro-Western King Idris, who in the 1950s had invited American oil companies to take leading role in exploring Libya for petroleum, leading to the discovery of the first commercially exploitable deposits in 1956.  The U.S. Government heavily supported Idris’s regime and aided the American oil companies in exploiting the country’s oil.  The present map proved to be a vital tool for the ongoing exploration for new petroleum deposits, as well as caches of other minerals, with its influence lasting for many years after it was first published.

Printed completely in parallel English and Arabic text, the map embraces all of Libya, and impressively maps its hitherto mysterious deep interior with the same thoroughness by which it charts its populated coastal regions.  The map showcases an amazing 27 colour-coded geological zones (plus sub-categories), considering physical features, rocks formations, and geologic epochs, plus delineating contact and fault lines, as explained in the ‘Geologic Explanation’ to the left-hand side of the map.  The geological information overlays a detailed topographic rendering of the country, printed in grisaille, while the country is divided into the petroleum exploration zones as mandated by Libya’s 1955 Petroleum Law.

Indicative of the great scientific rigour under which the map was created, Conant and Gourdazi reveal their exhaustive list of research materials, listed in the lower right quadrant.

Notably, the present example of the map is a ‘professional field copy’.  It has been contemporarily trimmed and mounted upon linen for practical use on worksites.  This necessitated the moving and repasting of some text blocks, with the title pasted to the verso, while the imprints, some Arabic text and headings have been discarded, along with the printed envelope in which the map was originally issued.  Such ‘professionalisation’ of geological maps was not uncommon, as oil and mining companies often commissioned for large collections of maps to be similarly modified.

The present example of the map is of the first issue.  A second edition was published in 1969, not long before the Western oil companies were evicted from Libya by the Gaddafi regime.

While several libraries hold examples of the present map, it only very rarely appears on the market.


The Rise of the Oil Industry and Scientific Geology in Libya

In the wake of World War II, Libya, having been liberated from three decades of Italian colonial occupation, went through a period of reorganization and unification before coming under the rule of King Idris (reigned 1951-69), a Senussi religious leader.  Libya was one of the poorest nations in the world, and the king courted friendly relations with Western powers in order to attract investment.  Idris was especially well disposed towards the United States, as it was viewed as not having a desire to colonize Libya, while being generous with its economic largesse.

Libya was long known to possess geological deposits that could potentially yield hydrocarbons in significant quantities.  In passing the 1955 Petroleum Law, Idris invited foreign petroleum companies, especially American firms, to explore the country for oil fields.  These endeavours soon bore fruit, as in 1956 the first commercially viable oil formations were discovered, resulting in wildcat wells.  This caused Esso, Mobil and Texas Gulf to dedicate major resources to Libya, leading to the discovery of massive, easily exploitable oil deposits in the Sirte Basin, the region in central Libya that still accounts for 90% of the country’s oil production.

The United States Geological Survey played a leading role in conducting surveys of Middle Eastern and African oil producing countries, especially as such highly specialized work could not then be accomplished by local authorities.  Immediately after the first major discoveries of oil were made in 1959, Libya’s Ministries of National Economy, Petroleum Affairs, and Industry invited the U.S. Geological Survey to map the country, with special emphasis upon locating oil deposits, as well as marking wells, pipelines and transportation infrastructure that served the petroleum industry.

The U.S. Geological Survey charged Gus Hossien Goudarzi (1918 – 1996) with creating the first proper general oil map of Libya.  Goudarzi was a highly esteemed Iranian-born American mining engineer, who had served as a military cartographer with the U.S. Navy, before conducting oil surveys in Saudi Arabia.  He oversaw new surveys in Libya, while also collecting and editing the very best existing maps, sorting the ‘wheat from the chaff’.  After almost three years of work, he completed the Topographic Map of United Kingdom of Libya (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Geological Survey, 1962), jointly sponsored by the Survey and the Libyan Petroleum Ministry.

Please see a link to this map, courtesy of the David Rumsey Map Collection:



While the Topographic Map was a masterly work, highly useful to the petroleum industry, it was decided that a more ambitious undertaking was to be ventured, being the creation of the first comprehensive and scientific overview of the geology of all of Libya.  This would aid in the discovery of new oil fields, as well as other exploitable mineral deposits.  Indeed, many areas of the Libya’s vast Saharan interior were scarcely known to geologists.

For this grand endeavour, Gus Goudarzi teamed up with his more senior colleague, Louis Cowles Conant (1902 – 1999).  Conant, a native of New Hampshire, studied at Dartmouth, before receiving his Ph.D. in 1934 at Cornell with a thesis, Geology of the New Hampshire Garnet Deposits.  He subsequently joined the U.S. Geological Survey, and from 1947 to 1954 was in charge of the important Chattanooga Field Shale Investigation.  He subsequently made major contributions to the geology of Mississippi, Alabama, Maryland and Rhode Island.  In the early 1960s, Conant became fascinated with the oil geology of North Africa, leading him to the Libya project.

The collaboration between Conant and Goudarzi was ideal, as it combined the latter’s unparalleled specialist knowledge of Libya with the former’s experienced eye, honed by over three decades of field work.

The present map, and its antecedent, the Topographic Map, were considered vitally useful to oil companies and civil authorities during the great boom in petroleum production in the 1960s that made Libya into the 13th largest oil producer in the world.  The country saw massive investment from American and European oil companies that utterly transformed Libya’s state revenues.  However, while Idris’s coffers and those of the country’s elite were flush, and while the Libya’s infrastructure saw notable improvement, only a tiny amount of the oil revenue trickled down to the common people, and more worryingly for Idris, to the average soldiers of his military.

Popular discontent, in good part due to the grossly unequal distribution of the oil wealth, allowed Colonel Muammar Gaddafi to mount a bloodless coup on September 1, 1969, toppling Idris’s regime.  Gaddafi launched an eccentric Socialist dictatorship that he later called the Jamahiriya (“State of the Masses”), which was to be fuelled by the country’s oil revenues.  Gaddafi created the National Oil Corporation (NOC) in November 1970, and over the coming years, he progressively nationalized the Libyan oil industry, evicting virtually all foreign interests.  The NOC became a virtual monopoly, playing a major role in the global petroleum economy, even as Libya came under Western sanctions in 1986, following the Lockerbie Tragedy.

In the early 2000s, Gaddafi attempted to come in from the cold, re-engaging Western powers and inviting them to invest in the Libyan oil industry, overturning the NOC’s near monopoly.  However, Gaddafi’s overthrow during the Arab Spring in 2011 plunged Libya into turmoil, and while the country still produces some oil, the enduring civil unrest destroyed much of the industrial infrastructure, severely limiting production.  As of today, it unclear when, or if, Libya will ever return to being a major petroleum producer.


References: Library of Congress: G8261.C5 1964 .G4; British Library: Science, Technology & Business (KB) NX 079 (L); OCLC: 874747288; Edwin McKEE (ed.), A Study of Global Sand Seas, Geological Survey Professional Paper no. 1052 (Washington. D.C., 1979), p. 411; The Libyan Journal of Science, vol. 12 (1983), p. 27; The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress, vol. 22 (Washington. D.C., 1965), p. 222.

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