Egypt is famous for its pyramids, Pharaohs, and golden sands that hide ancient treasures. During excavations, priceless artifacts and whole cities have been found. But past the Sphinx and the Valley of Kings is a historical site called “Wadi El Hitan,” which is 160 km southwest of the Pyramids of Giza.
Wadi El Hitan, also known as the “Valley of Whales,” is an ancient Egyptian desert that holds the secret to a big change in the history of life on Earth. This desert used to be a huge ocean and has many fossils, including some of the oldest whales, called archaeometry (primitive whales). This site is very important, and in 2005, UNESCO named it a World Heritage Site.
The story of Wadi Al Hitan
Wadi Al Hitan’s story is very interesting. About 40 to 50 million years ago, huge animals swam in the huge Tethys ocean. When they died, they sank to the bottom of the ocean. Over time, a thin layer of sediment built up over their bones, and as the ancient sea went away, it turned into a huge desert that kept the whales alive for a long time. (Source)
The Daily News Egypt says, “The 200-square-kilometer Wadi Al-Hitan, which is in the Fayoum desert, was covered with water about 37 years ago. It was part of the old Mediterranean Sea, which was called the “Tethys Sea” and existed about 200 million years ago. Almost 200 million years ago, the Tethys Sea was over Fayoum. It shrunk to the north and became the Mediterranean Sea, and then desertification turned the sea floor into a desert.
The number, quality, and distribution of fossils at Wadi El Hitan are all unique. They show how coastal marine life and evolution changed over millions of years. These bones show how land animals changed into marine mammals. Some of the stomach contents are still there, too.
Scientists have been able to get a good idea of what the environment and ecosystem were like at the site because they found fossils of sharks, crocodiles, sawfish, turtles, and rays. Wadi El Hitan is the best place in the world to see how things change over time.
The Valley of the Whales
In 1903, people first heard about the Valley of Whales as the place where the first fossil whale skeletons were found. But because it was hard to get to, the site was forgotten for a long time. When all-wheel-drive cars came out in the late 1980s, more people started going to the site and writing about what they found there. Scholars, people who collect fossils, and tourists began going to the site quickly.
Unfortunately, many of the fossils were taken from the site without the right paperwork or care, so they are no longer there. This led to calls for the site to be better protected and kept.
The largest fossil, which was 21 meters long, was one of the most important things found in the Valley of Whales. The fossil showed that its forelimbs had flippers with five fingers, and it also had hind legs, feet, and toes, which had never been seen in “archaeometry” before (primitive whales that document the transition of whales to a marine lifestyle).
The site is thought to be one of the most valuable of its kind because of how many fossils it has, how well they are preserved, and how easy it is to get to them.
Fossils found in Wadi El Hitan
Wadi El Hitan is a treasure trove of fossils from the past. It has a large number of Archaeoceti skeletons and sirenians. The site has well-preserved fossils of crocodiles, sea turtles, and sea snakes that lived 40 million years ago, as well as fossils of shark teeth.
Small fish teeth are the most common fossils at the site, but larger fish fossils like sawfish rostra are also there. The site is most famous for a sawfish rostrum that is 1.8 meters long.
Wadi El Hitan also has a wide range of fossilized shells and nummulite in addition to these fossils. The layers here are from the Middle Eocene, and there are a lot of fossils of vertebrates in the 200 km2 area around the desert. Researchers have found a lot of whale fossils and sea cow fossils at the site, which has over one hundred different fossils listed.
The fossilized remains that were found in Egypt’s Wadi El Hitan were made by a snakelike creature that ate meat. The site has a fossil library with a wide range of fossils, including the streamlined bodies of modern whales and the early parts of the structure of the skull and teeth.
Modern whale skeletons still have some bones from the back legs that point to a terrestrial ancestry. However, these bones have no use in the water and are slowly going away through the process of natural selection. Researchers think that this means that these animals used to live all over the world.
It can be hard to find fossils that support this theory, but science has been lucky when it comes to whales. The discovery of the legs, knees and feet of extinct whale species has given scientists concrete proof and changed how they think about the evolution of whales, which challenges what they thought they knew about their ancestors. The physical evidence can be harsh, so the tree of life has to be changed.
Why Wadi El Hitan is important
The Wadi El Hitan is a unique and well-protected site. Not many tourists go there because it is out in the middle of nowhere and can only be reached by unmarked, unpaved desert roads. Most of the people who come to the valley are from other countries. They camp there, and the area has been turned into a tourist attraction by adding walkways and small shelters near the main fossils.
Not only is the Wadi El Hitan full of fossils, but it is also home to more than 15 kinds of desert plants and 15 kinds of mammals, such as the red fox and the Egyptian mongoose. Fennec Foxes often come to the area at night when they are looking for food. The site is in the protected area of Wadi El Rayan.
Behind the fiery mountain of Garet Gohannam is the Wadi Al Hitan, which only gets about 1,000 four-wheel drive visitors a year. This is because the track is not paved and goes through desert sands that are not marked. Most of the people who come are from other countries. They camp in the valley on winter weekends.
As part of the management plan for the Wadi El Rayan Protected Area, visitors can only go on guided tours that have been planned ahead of time and follow a set path. But tourism which is good for the environment is growing in the area. Instead of 4WD vehicles, people are going on foot or camel treks.
Since Wadi Al Hitan became a place for tourists to visit, walkways and small shelters have been built so that people can see the most important fossils. Tourist groups now go to the valley often, and there is a small campground there.
In 2007, there was a disagreement because the Egyptian government said that Belgian diplomats went into a protected area and broke a whale fossil, causing $10 million in damage. The Belgian government says that the accusations are false, and the problem has not been solved.