Wadi al-Hitan

Gebel Guhannam and Wadi al-Hitan (Wadi Zeuglodon)

Wadi al-Hitan Entrance we call it, this wadi is more beautiful than N 29 21 393 W 30 27 215 the White Desert.That is a mouthful.The This is a special section of Zone A, the Special Protection Zone I, as it is one of the most important fossil sites not only in the Fayoum or the Western Desert but also in the world.

° 4×4

° 6 hours

° easy

~ entrance fee

The restrictions here are the toughest in the Protected Area.

There is one mountain in the zone, the fiat-topped Gebel Guhannam, Mountain of Hell, located 28 km (17.5 miles) west of Lake Qarun and 35 km (22 miles) from the entrance.

Pay the entrance fee at the main gate.

Visitors must follow a single path, vehicle traffic is restricted, there are two camping areas, and hiking and camel trekking are permitted. An eco-lodge is being planned.

Just as the name Basilosaurus gave way to Zeuglodon, now Wadi Zeuglodun must give way to

Wadi al-Hitan,

Wadi al hitan
Wadi al hitan

as that is closer one gets to its entrance, the_mQf€ astonishing the surroundings.

Once lllslde the high valley, one’s eyes are startled by huge, seemingly caramelized, surreal boulders capped with imaginary iC1I1S Of thick oozing syrup. Stone confections_1’UI1 down the boulders’ sides in great, glor1ouSglobs.

These magnificent sculptures seem to have been flung about the landscape some ancient event during the creation of this lunar terrain.

The bonus is that this magnificent landscape is in the middle Of an area of 25 sq km (10 miles) where the fossil remains of Basilosaurus isis l12Ve been found. ‘ In this wadi, you are at the southem shore of the ancient Tethys Sea.

Evidence of the sea has been found in the fossilized western Of the THE FAYOUM Wadi, including one area that was infested by worms in the ancient past. The region around Gebel Guhannam is part of the Upper Eocene Birket Qarun formation.

The top of Gebel Guhannam is of the Qasr al- Sagha formation, which holds some land mammals washed there by flowing water and an abtmdance of sea creatures stranded when the sea receded.

Wadi al-Hitan

sits at the top ofthe escarpment as high as Guhannam, It, too, is of the Qasr al-Sagha formation and it sat on the southem shore of the Tethys Sea.


which means ‘King of Reptiles,’ is an old (1835) mistake, as Zeuglodon is not a reptile, but a mammal.

The mistake is being perpetuated by the Protected Area as they have chosen to use it instead of Zeuglodon, the correct classification.

It averaged 20 meters (64 ft) in length and had a slender, eel-shaped body and saw-edged teeth. Just one of its fossilized vertebrae may weigh as much as 20.4 kg

(45 lbs). It died in the the Fayoum over forty million years ago in the Eocene period. For comparison, the earliest known whale in the world is Pakicetus, fifty million years old.

Similar whales

were found in 1834 in Alabama, United States, where the extraordinary whale, correctly called Zeuglodon, was named the state fossil. It was so abundant in Alabama, the bones were used to make furniture.

A full skeleton was excavated in the 1840s and the 114 ft specimen WHS taken on tour in the United States and E-lll’0pe. Some think the creatures in Loch NWS in Scotland and Lake Champlain in the United States are Zeuglodon.

The most amazing thing about Zeu-is that it had feet.

Sometime in the past, mammals migrated into the Sea” Some returned to the land and others did not. As the ancestors of modern whales the sea, their front legs began to into flippers, their backs elongated, and their hind legs disappeared. Only nubs

On modem whales to indicate where hind legs were.

Zeuglodon does not nubs.

Ten million years after whales the sea, Zeuglodon had small, fully hind legs with a femur, patella, These legs were discovered by Philip Gingerich and Holly Smith, a husband and wife team from the University of Michigan, on an expedition to Wadi al-Hitan in 1989.

Some early conclusions are that this whale was an ‘evolutionary dead end’ in the whale family and is probably not related to modern whales. But it teaches us a lot about the transition of whales from land mammals to sea mammals.

Five different species of whales have been found in Wadi al-Hitan. One is Dorudon (eighty-two skeletons).

Much smaller at 3-to-5 -meters (12-to-15-ft) long, it may prove to be the link to modem whales.

Other species are Eosiren, Eotheroides, and Protosiren, three early Sirenian whales that resemble modem sea-cows. The last, of course, is Zeuglodon (ninety-seven skeletons). By the end of the twentieth century, nearly five hundred skeletons of these various whales had been found.

Why did the whales come to this ancient bay to die?

We do not know. Scientists speculate that it could be beaching, as some modem whales do, or more exciting, the

female whales retumed to this site each year to give birth to their babies.

The area could have been an ancient nursery.

Zeuglodon may have preyed upon Dorudon. Scientists have found great differences between the two species.

Even in death, they are different.

Zeuglodon is found stretched out, while the skeletons of Dorudon

are curled in a fetal fashion, with the head reaching for the tail. In addition to the whales, after all this was a sea, shark, sawfish, catfish, swordfrsh turtles, sea snakes, and crocodiles are found at the wadi.

Femur talus and four toes Zeul|odon’s amazing feet.

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