Ancient Whale Uncovered in Egyptian Desert
Posted on November 13, 2008 Comments (4)
The skeleton is 18 meters (50 feet) long and was found in Wadi Hitan in the Western Sahara of Egypt. The first Basilosaurus fossil was found in 1905 but no full skeleton has been discovered until now.
The new skeleton of Basilosaurus will be shipped to Michigan for preparation and preservation, University of Michigan paleontologist Philip D. Gingerich said. It then will be replicated in a casting material suitable for reconstruction and exhibition of the complete skeleton. The original fossil bones and a complete cast will be returned to Egypt for exhibition in public museums in Cairo and in the Wadi Hitan visitors center. Gingerich also hopes that a complete cast can be mounted in the University of Michigan Exhibit Museum.
The fossil whales of Wadi Hitan were first mapped in the 1980s and 1990s during expeditions led by Gingerich, a professor at the U-M Museum of Paleontology and Department of Geological Sciences. The 1989 team discovered that Basilosaurus still retained tiny, useless legs, feet, and toes representing hind legs that were lost at a later stage of whale evolution. No skeleton was collected at the time because of the remote location of Wadi Hitan and because of the large size of the whale skeletons.
Wadi Hitan is a remote valley in which hundreds of fossil whale skeletons are being exposed by the wind. They lie trapped in a sandstone formation that represents an ancient sea bed. “Here the wind sculpts the sand into spectacular shapes, which give the valley an unusual beauty in addition to its richness in fossils,” Gingerich said.
Sea-living animals found in the Wadi Hitan desert include five species of whales, including the Dorudon atrox, presently exhibited in the University of Michigan Exhibit Museum. There are also three species of sea cows (Sirenia), two crocodiles, several turtles, and a sea snake, in addition to a large number of fossilized sharks and bony fishes.
Related: Stromerius nidensis, new archaeocete (Mammalia, Cetacea) from the upper Eocene Qasr el-Sagha Formation, Fayum, Egypt – Giant Duck-Billed Dinosaur Discovered in Mexico – Over 100 Dinosaur Eggs Discovered – Nigersaurus