Egypt Opens Middle East's First Fossil Museum

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In the desert valley of Wadi al-Hitan, some 150 km southwest of Cairo, Egypt has unveiled what it said is the Middle East's first museum dedicated to fossils that showcases an early form of whales, now extinct and known as the "walking whale." The sand-colored, dome-shaped Fossils and Climate Change Museum was constructed on a grant of 2 billion euros from Italy, according to Italian Ambassador Maurizio Massari. The centerpiece of the museum is a 37-million-year-old and 20-meter-long skeleton of a legged form of whale that testifies to how modern-day whales evolved from land mammals. The Valley of the Whales' museum is also home to prehistoric tools used by early humans and various whale fossils exhibited in glass boxes corroborating the evolutionary transition of the early whales from land to water creatures.

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Photo credit: Thomas Hartwell/AP Photo

But how did fossils of whales end up in the middle of the hottest desert? That’s because this valley was submerged in water some 40 to 50 million years ago by a sea called the Tethys Sea that reached far south of the existing Mediterranean.

Wadi al-Hitan or the Valley of Whales contains valuable collection of fossils and bones of a now extinct, suborder of whales, called the archaeoceti. These fossils explains one of the greatest mysteries of the evolution of whales: the emergence of the whale as an ocean-going mammal from a previous life as a land-based animal. The fossils of Wadi Al-Hitan dating back to 50 million years show the youngest archaeocetes, in the last stages of evolution from land animals to a marine existence. They already display the typical streamlined body form of modern whales, whilst retaining certain primitive aspects of skull and tooth structure, as well as hind legs. Many of the whale skeletons are in good condition as they have been well preserved in the rock formations. Semi-complete skeletons are found in the valley and in some cases, even stomach contents are preserved.

The Museum was opened as part of concentrated government efforts to attract much-needed tourists, driven away by recent militant attacks, and restore confidence in the safety of its attractions.

But Environment Minister Khaled Fahmy cautioned against interpreting the museum's opening as a "full endorsement of the theory of evolution," which conflicts with Islam.

"That is an entirely different matter," he said. "We are still tied to our Islamic belief system."

Read more about Wadi al-Hitan

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The sand-colored, dome-shaped museum is barely discernible in the breathtaking desert landscape that stretches all around. Photo credit: Thomas Hartwell/AP Photo

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The largest intact Basulosaurus isis whale fossil, which is on display at the Wati El Hitan Fossils and Climate Change Museum, on the opening day, in the Fayoum oasis, Egypt, Thursday, January 14, 2016. Photo credit: Thomas Hartwell/AP Photo

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Photo credit: Thomas Hartwell/AP Photo

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Photo credit: Thomas Hartwell/AP Photo

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Photo credit: Thomas Hartwell/AP Photo

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Photo credit: Thomas Hartwell/AP Photo

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Photo credit: Thomas Hartwell/AP Photo

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Photo credit: Thomas Hartwell/AP Photo

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Photo credit: Thomas Hartwell/AP Photo

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Fossil of a sirenia (or "sea cow") is pictured in the natural reserve area of Wadi Al-Hitan, or the "Valley of the Whales", at the desert of Al Fayoum Governorate, southwest of Cairo, Egypt, January 14, 2016. Photo credit: Thomas Hartwell/AP Photo

via Associated Press

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1 comment:

  1. I supose its because is the desert, but is extranje to see uncover fosils and exposed to the air. In other countries that could mean that the fosil would be destroyed by the elements.

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