We know as much as we do about our world and how it came to be because intrepid explorers and archaeologists take time to go looking for clues about where we came from and how our world once looked. Some of the findings are truly remarkable, as they give rise to historical data that would not seem possible given where we are at now. One of the most truly surprising finds is at Wadi El Hitan in Egypt, where the bones of whales have been discovered in what is now the middle of a vast desert about 150 km southwest of Cairo.While Wadi El Hitan, which translates to Valley of the Whales, was discovered back in the early 1900’s, it is only in recent years that the true archaeological work has truly begun. The original whale fossil skeletons were discovered back in 1902-03, and while the find was indeed an amazing one, the location and lack of accessibility of the region made it tough for people to get in and out to do more digging into what was obviously a very special place. That, though, would change in the years that followed.
It was in the 1980’s when interest in Wadi El Hitan began to hot fever pitch, mostly because the advent of off-road vehicles made it possible to get in and out of the sandy terrain that much easier. It was then that the true extend of the finds in the almost 50,000-acre region began to become clear. The people that did make it in and out were not always serious historians and archaeologists, with many simply being fossil collectors looking to grow their collection in an area that was simply not been given a great deal of protection.
Things began to take a serious turn in 2005, though, as that was when Wadi El Hitan was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, meaning that the area was now protected for future serious research by trained professionals. What has been found in the years of exploration has helped us see just how much our world has changed over the centuries. The fossils found are from whales, but not the ones that we know today. The bones found are from archaeoceti, and extinct type of whale, which was a land animal that had very clearly defined limbs, which can be seen in the bones that are still being discovered to this day.
Given that we are looking at a protected part of the world, not to mention one that is not easy to reach, there are not a lot of visitors to Wadi El Hitan. Those that do make it there, though, are kept on the periphery, and while there is a public area with some wonderful fossils on display, the tours are guided and confined to smaller areas. The Valley of the Whales is becoming popular in the world of eco-tourism, but if it’s a little too far for you to go, the good news is that there is plenty of information and photos available online of this amazing site.