Uadi Al-Hitan, the remote desert of the whales

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Uadi Al-Hitan means in Arabic, the valley of the whales. Millennia before the beauty Queens of Egypt, the whales reigned as an underwater towering queens in the depths of the Antique Tethys sea.

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Nowadays, the valley is a desert full of sand and capricious rocks and fossils. At two hours by car from the capital, Cairo, we arrive to the Al Fayun region.

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Under the sands are preserved the most ancient remains of these huge mammals. In fact, it belongs to the ancestors of the modern cetacean, known as archaeocetes.

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Uadi Al-Hitan forms itself an outdoor museum of ancient whales, sharks, turtles and other marine species with an antiquity of 40 – 50 millions of years. The zone is a deserted plain with several little plateaus. The landscape is amazing, showing capricious formations, originated by the powerful erosion of the wind.

The first remains were discovered in 1936 but it was not until 2005, the zone was avowed Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO.

But why is a discover is important? Due to the number, concentration and quality of the biological remains of a period of full import. It contributes to rebuild the ecological conditions and the climatic specifics.

Also contributes with valuable information about the evolutionary history of the whales. Precisely, the whales are mammals that in remote times lived on land, but later pass to live underwater. And the gradual adaptation to this water environment is full of uncertainties.

Basilosaurus was founded, who had tiny hind legs. This legs were not useful for walk, remained as an appendix.

But Basilosaurus was not the only specie found. For example DorudonPakicetusProtocetus were found among others.

BasilosaurusDorudon

pakicetus      protocetus

The paleontologist Philip Gingerich devotes much of his scientific career studying this gradual return to the primordial aquatic environment. He said that «Full specimens like that Basilosaurus are the Rosetta stone”.

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It is well-known that the common ancestor of whales and the rest of terrestrial vertebrates was a flathead tetrapod with an appearance of salamander, that emerged from the sea and settle in a humid bank about 360 million years ago. Gradually, the descendants were improving the function of organs as lungs or jaws.

So, 60 million years ago, mammals dominated Earth. The peculiarity of whales is that gave an evolutionary 180 degrees change, returning back to sea.

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Gingerich found the first known whale knee in this entrancing region of Egypt.

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Thus, Egypt not only represents one of the cradles of human ancient history but, a precious parchment which includes well-conserved history of Life itself, as Evolution is a proof of.

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