Category Archives: AFRICA

Amazing Ancient Underwater Treasures And Temples Discovered At Thonis-Heracleion

Amazing Ancient Underwater Treasures And Temples Discovered At Thonis-Heracleion

A marvelous submerged ancient world can be found in the ancient port city of Thonis-Heracleion in the Bay of Aboukir off Egypt’s Mediterranean coast.

Beneath the waters lies the legendary lost kingdom of Cleopatra. The 5th-century BC historian Herodotus had mentioned the 1,600-year-old city. He described it as an impressive city of great wealth. Around 1,200 years ago, it vanished.

Lost Ancient Kingdom Of Cleopatra

Mysterious ancient figures are buried beneath the water.

It is commonly believed that an earthquake and tidal waves destroyed Cleopatra’s empire. Scientists think that the entire city was completely submerged, along with all the artifacts, statues, columns, and other beauties of the Palace of Cleopatra.

Underwater archaeologists exploring the ancient underwater city of Heracleion have revealed more of its many archaeological treasures, but there is still so much more awaiting discovery.

A team of marine archaeologists led by French marine archaeologist Franck Goddio began excavating the ancient city in 1998.

“It’s a unique site in the world,” said Goddio, who has made wonderful photographs capturing monuments, statues, ruins, and artifacts of a long-gone ancient kingdom.

Demonstrating the Greek presence in Ancient Egypt, a delicate bronze duck-shaped pourer was discovered among ceramics at the site of a newly discovered Greek sanctuary to Aphrodite in the submerged ruins of Thonis-Heracleion.

The European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (IEASM) has now announced new amazing  “treasures and secrets” have been found at the site of a sunken temple off Egypt’s Mediterranean coast.

The Underwater Temple Of God Amun

A team of underwater archaeologists led by Franck Goddio has found many valuable items while exploring the submerged temple of the god Amun in the ancient port city of Thonis-Heracleion.

The scientists were investigating the city’s south canal, where huge blocks of stone from the ancient temple collapsed “during a cataclysmic event dated to the mid-second century BC.”

IEASM informed the temple of the god Amun was visited by pharaohs who came “to receive the titles of their power as universal kings from the supreme god of the ancient Egyptian pantheon.”

The scientists were investigating the city’s south canal, where huge blocks of stone from the ancient temple collapsed “during a cataclysmic event dated to the mid-second century BC.”

As reported by CNN, “the archaeological excavations, conducted jointly by Goddio’s team and the Department of Underwater Archaeology of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities of Egypt, revealed underground structures “supported by very well-preserved wooden posts and beams dating from the 5th century BC,” the institute said.

“It is extremely moving to discover such delicate objects, which survived intact despite the violence and magnitude of the cataclysm,” said Goddio, who is president of IEASM and director of excavations.”

Scientists were able to make these remarkable discoveries thanks to new advanced geophysical prospecting technologies that can detect cavities and objects “buried under layers of clay several meters thick,” the institute said.

Ancient Underwater Temple Dedicated To Goddess Aphrodite

Not far from the Amum temples, the underwater archaeologists found a Greek sanctuary devoted to Aphrodite, where they were able to retrieve bronze and ceramic objects.

“This illustrates that Greeks who were allowed to trade and settle in the city during the time of the Pharaohs of the Saïte dynasty (664 – 525 BC) had their sanctuaries to their own gods,” the institute said.

Gold objects, jewelry, and a Djed pilar, a symbol of stability made of lapis lazuli, were retrieved.

The discoveries of Greek weapons also reveal the presence of Greek mercenaries in the area, IEASM said. “They were defending the access to the Kingdom at the mouth of the Canopic Branch of the Nile.

This branch was the largest and the best navigable one in antiquity.”
The remains of Thonis-Heracleion are now located under the sea, 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) from the present coast of Egypt, IEASM said. The city was for centuries Egypt’s largest port on the Mediterranean before the founding of Alexandria by Alexander the Great in 331 BC.

Diving at Thonis-Hercleion to discover ancient treasures is a delicate task. A votive hand is shown emerging from the sediment during an excavation.

“Rising sea levels and earthquakes followed by tidal waves triggering land liquefaction events, caused a 110 square kilometer portion of the Nile delta to totally disappear under the sea, taking with it the city of Thonis-Heracleion,” the institute said.

The city was discovered by the IEASM in 2000. The research and discoveries conducted by IEASM  have led to valuable discoveries, adding greatly to our historical knowledge.

World’s Oldest Wooden Structure Made By Ancient Humans Is 476,000 Years Old

World’s Oldest Wooden Structure Made By Ancient Humans Is 476,000 Years Old

Half a million years ago, earlier than was previously thought possible, humans were building structures made of wood, according to new research by a team from the University of Liverpool and Aberystwyth University.

The research, published in the journal Nature, reports on the excavation of well-preserved wood at the archaeological site of Kalambo Falls, Zambia, dating back at least 476,000 years and predating the evolution of our own species, Homo sapiens.

Professor Larry Barham (pictured, right) uncovering the wooden structure on the banks of the river with a fine spray. Credit: Professor Geoff Duller, Aberystwyth University

Expert analysis of stone tool cut-marks on the wood show that these early humans shaped and joined two large logs to make a structure, probably the foundation of a platform or part of a dwelling.

This is the earliest evidence from anywhere in the world of the deliberate crafting of logs to fit together. Until now, evidence for the human use of wood was limited to its use for making fire, digging sticks and spears.

Wood is rarely found in such ancient sites as it usually rots and disappears, but at Kalambo Falls permanently high water levels preserved the wood.

This discovery challenges the prevailing view that Stone Age humans were nomadic. At Kalambo Falls these humans not only had a perennial source of water, but the forest around them provided enough food to enable them to settle and make structures.

Professor Larry Barham, from the University of Liverpool’s Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, who leads the “Deep Roots of Humanity” research project said, “This find has changed how I think about our early ancestors. Forget the label ‘Stone Age,’ look at what these people were doing: they made something new, and large, from wood.

They used their intelligence, imagination, and skills to create something they’d never seen before, something that had never previously existed.”

“They transformed their surroundings to make life easier, even if it was only by making a platform to sit on by the river to do their daily chores. These folks were more like us than we thought.”

The specialist dating of the finds was undertaken by experts at Aberystwyth University.

They used new luminescence dating techniques, which reveal the last time minerals in the sand surrounding the finds were exposed to sunlight, to determine their age.

The excavation team uncovering the wooden structure. Credit: Professor Larry Barham, University of Liverpool

Professor Geoff Duller from Aberystwyth University said, “At this great age, putting a date on finds is very challenging and we used luminescence dating to do this.

These new dating methods have far reaching implications—allowing us to date much further back in time, to piece together sites that give us a glimpse into human evolution. The site at Kalambo Falls had been excavated back in the 1960s when similar pieces of wood were recovered, but they were unable to date them, so the true significance of the site was unclear until now.”

The site of Kalambo Falls on the Kalambo River lies above a 235 meters (772 foot) waterfall on the border of Zambia with the Rukwa Region of Tanzania at the edge of Lake Tanganyika. The area is on a “tentative” list from UNESCO for becoming a World Heritage site because of its archaeological significance.

World's Oldest Wooden Structure Made By Ancient Humans Is 476,000 Years Old
A wedge shaped piece of wood. Credit: Professor Larry Barham, University of Liverpool

Professor Duller added, “Our research proves that this site is much older than previously thought, so its archaeological significance is now even greater. It adds more weight to the argument that it should be a United Nations World Heritage Site.”

The excavation team uncovered the wooden structure. Credit: Professor Larry Barham, University of Liverpool
The wooden structure, shows where Stone Age Humans have cut into the wood. Credit: Professor Larry Barham, University of Liverpool

This research forms part of the pioneering “Deep Roots of Humanity” project, an investigation into how human technology developed in the Stone Age. The project involved teams from Zambia’s National Heritage Conservation Commission, Livingstone Museum, Moto Moto Museum and the National Museum, Lusaka.

Professor Barham added, “Kalambo Falls is an extraordinary site and a major heritage asset for Zambia. The Deep Roots team is looking forward to more exciting discoveries emerging from its waterlogged sands.”

Possible 400-Year-Old Ritual Objects From Egypt Identified

Possible 400-Year-Old Ritual Objects From Egypt Identified

‘People in the Early Ottoman Period consulted popular sorcerers, alongside their formal belief in the official religion, say the Israeli archeologists

Itamar Taxel, Israel Antiquities Authority. The excavation area in the Eilat hills of Israel.

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) released on Monday archeological findings of “magical” artifacts on the Darb al-Hajj pilgrimage route from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, which passed through the Sinai Peninsula.

The assemblage of artifacts was first discovered in the 1990s in the Eilat region, near the Red Sea. The team of Israelis analyzed the rare collection of objects, and determined that they were used for magic rituals about 400 years ago, “to ward off the evil eye, to heal diseases and more.”

“This discovery reveals that people in the Early Ottoman Period—just as today—consulted popular sorcerers, alongside the formal belief in the official religion,” said Dr. Itamar Taxel of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Dr. Nitzan Amitai-Preiss of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. 

Possible 400-Year-Old Ritual Objects From Egypt Identified
Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority. A clay female figurine was found at the excavation area in the Eilat hills of Israel.

The archeologists said the objects may have been broken purposely during the ceremonies, describing one of the objects as “fragments of clay globular rattles, mostly similar to table tennis balls, containing small stones that sound when the rattle was shaken.” 

Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities. AuthorityColored quartz pebbles were found at the excavation area in the Eilat hills of Israel.

In addition, there were two artifacts “similar to miniature votive incense altars,” as well as figurines, particularly of a naked woman “or a goddess with raised hands, a characteristic feature of deities or priests,” and some colored quartz pebbles. 

“This is the first time that such a large assemblage of ritual objects of this kind has been found, and it is even more unique at a temporary site and not a permanent settlement,” the researchers stated, describing the material as coming from Egypt.

Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities AuthorityClay rattle fragment found at the excavation area in the Eilat hills of Israel.

The location where the artifacts were found was next to Darb al-Hajj pilgrimage road that started in Cairo and wound through the Sinai Peninsula into the Arabian Peninsula.

The road was used from the 7th century CE — the advent of Islam — until the 19th century CE.

“The road and adjacent archaeological sites are to become part of a unique regional archaeological-touristic area promoted by the Ministry of Tourism,” Dr. Omry Barzilai, Southern Regional Archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said about the special site.

Uzi Avner, Dead Sea-Arava Science Center. Part of the Darb al-Hajj pilgrimage route in the Eilat mountains of Israel.

The research was recently published in the Journal of Material Cultures in the Muslim World.

Animal Tracks And Human Footprints In Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherer Rock Art In Namibia

Animal Tracks And Human Footprints In Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherer Rock Art In Namibia

Namibia is rich in hunter-gatherer rock art from the Later Stone Age (LSA); this is a tradition of which well-executed engravings of animal tracks in large numbers are characteristic.

Animal Tracks And Human Footprints In Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherer Rock Art In Namibia
Hidden panel of the RAS 8 rock art site. The narrow corridor RAS 8-N, with engravings on both sides which extend as far inside as the lower exfoliated rock face; from the position of the photographer at the entrance, this is situated roughly three metres into the corridor (photograph: T. Lenssen-Erz).

The sites examined in this study are located in the Doro! nawas mountains of Namibia, and have  abundance of track engravings on single panels.

A recent research project, from which this article has emerged, has attempted to fill the research gap; it entailed indigenous tracking experts from the Kalahari analysing engraved animal tracks and human footprints in a rock art region in central Western Namibia, the Doro! nawas Mountains, which is the site of recently discovered rock art.

In this study, the researchers defined the species, sex, age group and exact leg of the specific animal or human depicted in more than 90% of the engravings they analysed (N = 513).

Exceptional panel from the RAS 6 rock art site. RAS 6-C is the most visible panel of RAS 6, featuring depictions of extraordinarily detailed giraffes and ostriches (above: engravings in their original condition; below: digitally enhanced images of the engravings; photographs and artwork by P. Breunig).

Their work further demonstrates that the variety of fauna is much richer in engraved tracks than in depictions of animals in the same engraving tradition.

The analyses reveal patterns that evidently arise from culturally determined preferences. The study represents further confirmation that indigenous knowledge, with its profound insights into a range of particular fields, has the capacity to considerably advance archaeological research.

Stone Age depictions of human footprints and animal tracks in Doro Nawas Mountains, Namibia. Credit: Andreas Pastoors

Prehistoric hunter-gatherers arguably depended for their survival on their ability to draw as much information as possible from the tracks of animals and people. As much as prehistoric rock art itself is a global phenomenon, so is the occurrence of tracks within the spectrum of motifs.

Among the 513 tracks analyzed in total, the experts identified 345 quadrupeds and 62 bird tracks (407 in total from 40 different species; Rhinoceros sp. is listed as a taxon, but not counted as a separate species).

We divide these into a group of ’frequently’ depicted species (10 depictions or more), a second group of ‘less frequently’ depicted species (between 3 and 9 depictions), and a group of ’rarely’ depicted species (one or two specimens only). The animal track engravings encompass 39 species, including herbivores, felines, other predators, birds and primates.

Doro! nawas is an area of about 50 x 30 km directly west of the World Heritage Site /Ui//aes-Twyfelfontein. Ui//aes-Twyfelfontein is considered to be among the largest rock engraving sites in sub-Saharan Africa, with a rich variety of motifs.

The sites at Doro! nawas located only a few kilometres to its west add considerably to this range; they include several large depictions of humans and particularly large naturalistic engravings of elephants, neither of which occur at all at the World Heritage Site. It is the area’s wealth of animal track engravings that makes it an ideal subject for the present study.

Paper – “Animal tracks and human footprints in prehistoric hunter-gatherer rock art of the Doro! nawas mountains (Namibia), analysed by present-day indigenous tracking experts.”

New Discovery Reveals Why And When The Sahara Desert Was Green

New Discovery Reveals Why And When The Sahara Desert Was Green

A pioneering study has shed new light on North African humid periods that have occurred over the past 800,000 years and explains why the Sahara Desert was periodically green.

New Discovery Reveals Why And When The Sahara Desert Was Green

The research, published in Nature Communications, showed periodic wet phases in the Sahara were driven by changes in Earth’s orbit around the sun and were suppressed during the ice ages.

For the first time, climate scientists simulated the historic intervals of ‘greening’ of the Sahara, offering evidence for how the timing and intensity of these humid events were also influenced remotely by the effects of large, distant, high-latitude ice sheets in the Northern Hemisphere.

Lead author Dr. Edward Armstrong, a climate scientist at the University of Helsinki and University of Bristol, said, “The cyclic transformation of the Sahara Desert into savannah and woodland ecosystems is one of the most remarkable environmental changes on the planet.”

“Our study is one of the first climate modeling studies to simulate the African Humid Periods with comparable magnitude to what the paleoclimate observations indicate, revealing why and when these events occurred.”

There is widespread evidence that the Sahara was periodically vegetated in the past, with the proliferation of rivers, lakes and water-dependent animals such as hippos, before it became what is now desert.

These North African Humid Periods may have been crucial in providing vegetated corridors out of Africa, allowing the dispersal of various species, including early humans, around the world.

The so-called “greenings” are thought to have been driven by changes in Earth’s orbital conditions, specifically Earth’s orbital precession. Precession refers to how Earth wobbles on its axis, which influences seasonality (i.e., the seasonal contrast) over an approximate 21,000-year cycle. These changes in precession determine the amount of energy received by the Earth in different seasons, which in turn controls the strength of the African Monsoon and the spread of vegetation across this vast region.

A major barrier to understanding these events is that the majority of climate models have been unable to simulate the amplitude of these humid periods, so the specific mechanisms driving them have remained uncertain.

This study deployed a recently-developed climate model to simulate the North African Humid periods to greatly advance understanding of their driving mechanisms.

The results confirm the North African Humid Periods occurred every 21,000 years and were determined by changes in Earth’s orbital precession. This caused warmer summers in the Northern Hemisphere, which intensified the strength of the West African Monsoon system and increased Saharan precipitation, resulting in the spread of savannah-type vegetation across the desert.

The findings also show the humid periods did not occur during the ice ages, when there were large glacial ice sheets covering much of the high latitudes. This is because these vast ice sheets cooled the atmosphere and suppressed the tendency for the African monsoon system to expand.

This highlights a major teleconnection between these distant regions, which may have restricted the dispersal of species, including humans, out of Africa during the glacial periods of the last 800,000 years.

Co-author Paul Valdes, Professor of Physical Geography at the University of Bristol, said, “We are really excited about the results. Traditionally, climate models have struggled to represent the extent of the ‘greening’ of the Sahara. Our revised model successfully represents past changes and also gives us confidence in their ability to understand future change.”

Changes of vegetation between humid and arid phases in North Africa. Vegetation zones are based on the minimum precipitation requirements of each vegetation type.

The research, including climate scientists from the University of Birmingham, is part of a project at the University of Helsinki, which studies the impacts of climate on past human distributions and evolution of their ecological niche.

Co-author Miikka Tallavaara, Assistant Professor of Hominin Environments at the University of Helsinki, said, “The Sahara region is kind of a gate controlling the dispersal of species between both North and Sub-Saharan Africa, and in and out of the continent.”

“The gate was open when Sahara was green and closed when deserts prevailed. This alternation of humid and arid phases had major consequences for the dispersal and evolution of species in Africa.

Our ability to model North African Humid periods is a major achievement and means we are now also better able to model human distributions and understand the evolution of our genus in Africa.”

Ancient Footprints Offer Evidence Humans Wore Shoes 148,000 Years Ago

Ancient Footprints Offer Evidence Humans Wore Shoes 148,000 Years Ago

A new analysis of ancient footprints in South Africa suggests that the humans who made these tracks might have been wearing hard-soled sandals.

Ancient Footprints Offer Evidence Humans Wore Shoes 148,000 Years Ago

Ichnological evidence from three palaeosurfaces on the Cape Coast, in conjunction with a neoichnological study, suggests that humans may indeed have worn footwear while traversing dune surfaces during the Middle Stone Age.

The study is published in the journal Ichnos.

While researchers are reluctant to shoehorn in any firm conclusions regarding the use of footwear in the distant past, the prints’ unusual characteristics may provide the oldest evidence yet that people used shoes to protect their feet from sharp rocks in the Middle Stone Age.

No direct dates have been assigned to the well-preserved markings found on stone slabs at three different sites along the Cape Coast, according to the study’s authors.

However, the researchers hypothesize that tracks discovered at a location known as Kleinkrantz may be between 79,000 and 148,000 years old based on the age of other nearby rocks and sediments.

The footprints show no toes, discerning it from barefoot markings, and instead displayed “rounded anterior ends, crisp margins, and possible evidence of strap attachment points.’ Similar markings that are estimated to have been left between 73,000 and 136,000 years ago were located at a site called Goukamma.

These prints can offer evidence early humans wore footwear 150,000 years ago.

The study authors wrote: “In all cases the purported tracks have dimensions that are broadly consistent with those of hominin tracks.” They added that the “track sizes appear to correspond to the tracks either of juvenile track-makers, or else small-adult hominin track-makers.”

To test this conclusion, the researchers made their own footprints wearing sandals resembling two different pairs of shoes used historically by the Indigenous San people of southern Africa, both of which are currently housed in museums.

Experiments revealed that the use of hard-soled footwear on wet sand left prints with crisp edges, no toe prints, and indentations where the leather straps met the sole – just like the markings at Kleinkrantz.

“While we do not consider the evidence conclusive, we interpret the three sites […] as suggesting the presence of shod-hominin trackmakers using hard-soled sandals,” write the researchers. Offering a possible motive for the use of such footwear, they go on to explain that coastal foraging involves clambering over sharp rocks while also posing the risk of stepping on sea urchins.

“In the [Middle Stone Age], a significant foot laceration might have been a death sentence,” they say. In this scenario, sandals would have been a lifesaver.

Despite their promising findings, researchers are reluctant to make any bold claims. This is due to a variety of factors, such as the difficulty of interpreting rock markings, as well as the fact no actual shoes from the Middle Stone Age have ever been found.

As such, they refrain from making major claims about their findings, but speculate that “humans may have indeed worn footwear while traversing dune surfaces during the Middle Stone Age.”

Journal Ichnos

Archaeologists Discover Paintings of Ancient Egypt in a 2,000-Year-Old Villa in Pompeii

Archaeologists Discover Paintings of Ancient Egypt in a 2,000-Year-Old Villa in Pompeii

A team of archaeologists has discovered impressive paintings of Ancient Egypt in a Roman villa in Pompeii. The portraits clearly show the vast influence the Egyptian culture had in early Roman society. Experts speculate that some of the paintings could possibly underscore an early form of Globalization.

Drawings Show Strong Egyptian Influence on Early Rome

Daily Mail reports that paintings portraying the River Nile were found in a beautiful garden in a luxurious ancient villa in Pompeii. Experts are optimistic that these paintings will reveal a lot of secrets on how the early Roman Empire was influenced by ancient Egypt.

Complex drawings from Casa dell’Efebo – one of the largest households in the city before it was severely damaged during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 – present a series of Nilotic murals with hippopotamuses, crocodiles, lotuses and short-statured men battling with vicious beasts.

Painting of a short-statured man fighting a beast (CC by SA 3.0)

Caitlin Barrett from the department of Classics at Cornell University claimed that the drawings give the house a cosmopolitan touch and outlines how the Romans were influenced by the ancient Egyptian culture such as religion.

“The paintings from the Casa dell’Efebo were created after Egypt was incorporated into the Roman Empire, but several generations after Augustus’ initial conquest of Egypt. Some researchers have turned to explanations emphasizing religion: maybe paintings of Egyptian landscapes have to do with an interest in Egyptian gods,” she told IBTimes of UK . And added, “Others have interpreted these paintings as political statements: maybe this is about celebrating the conquest of Egypt. I suggest that instead of trying to apply a one-size-fits-all explanation, we should look at context and individual choices.”

Sexual Activity is Present Regardless the Political and Cultural Focus of the Paintings

It’s no secret that Pompeii was famous for its intense sexual life and wild parties. As a result of this lifestyle, many paintings discovered from that era are extremely graphic, including strong doses of excessive sexual content. Let’s not forget that when the city was rediscovered in 1599, the city became buried again (thanks to censorship) for nearly another 150 years before the king of Naples, Charles of Bourbon, ordered the proper excavation of the site during the late 1740s.

As DHWTY reports in a previous Ancient Origins article , despite the erotic nature of these images, it has been suggested that they were merely an idealized version of sex.

Thus, it has been postulated that the lives of the prostitutes at the most famed bordello in Pompeii, Lupanare, was far grimmer than the erotic images suggest. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the main theme of the recently discovered paintings is sex and alcohol consumption.

A fresco found within one of Pompeii’s brothels.

Paintings Could Underscore a Form of Globalization

Despite the obvious themes of the paintings, Barrett also argues that they could underscore how the Romans interacted with the outside world; thus a form of globalization.

The study, which was published in the American Journal of Archaeology, appears to share its views with Barrett’s suggestions and also proclaims that artifacts discovered around the garden of the household and the building’s elaborate architecture such as water installations mimic the diverse nature of the Roman Empire.

Archaeologists Discover Paintings of Ancient Egypt in a 2,000-Year-Old Villa in Pompeii
Representations of sexual activity, music and alcohol consumption are often central to these paintings

Barrett stated as Daily Mail reports , “In this particular assemblage, rather than solely trying to make some kind of statement about Isiac rituals or Roman politics, the owner of this house seems to be asserting a cosmopolitan identity as a citizen of the Empire.

In Pompeian houses at this time, when people are representing faraway lands in domestic art, they are also trying to figure out what it means to them to be participants in the Roman Empire.”

The study adds that the paintings of the Nile in the Pompeian villa provided its owners with a unique chance to come in contact with shifting local and imperial Roman identities and to reproduce a microcosm of the world they lived in, “People sometimes imagine phenomena like globalization to be creations of the modern world.

In fact, if you look at the Roman Empire there are lots of parallels for some of the cross-cultural interactions that are also very much part of our own contemporary world” the researcher of the study concludes at the end.

Egypt dig unearths 41 mln-year-old Whale in desert -Tutcetus rayanensis-

Egypt dig unearths 41 mln-year-old Whale in desert -Tutcetus rayanensis-

Paleontologists in Egypt announced the discovery of a new species of extinct whale that inhabited the sea covering present-day Egypt around 41 million years ago.

With an estimated length of 2.5 meters and a body mass of approximately 187 kilograms, the new species, named Tutcetus rayanensis, is the smallest basilosaurid whale known to date and one of the oldest records of its family in Africa.

The name of the new whale draws inspiration from Egyptian history and the discovery’s locale. Tutcetus combines “Tut” — referring to the famous adolescent Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun  — and “cetus,” Greek for whale, highlighting the specimen’s small size and young age. Rayanensis refers to the Wadi El-Rayan Protected Area in Fayoum, where the whale was found.

Additionally, the name was chosen to commemorate the centennial of the discovery of King Tut’s tomb and coincides with the forthcoming opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza.

Despite its modest size, Tutcetus has provided scientists with remarkable insights into the life history, phylogeny and paleobiogeography of early whales.

Hesham Sallam at Wadi al-Hitan.

Team leader Hesham Sallam, of the American University in Cairo (AUC), said it was a “remarkable discovery that documents one of the first phases of the transition to a fully aquatic lifestyle”.

From Land to Sea

The Basilosauridae, a family of extinct, fully aquatic whales, represent a crucial stage in whale evolution. As they transitioned from land to sea, the basilosauridae developed fish-like characteristics, such as a streamlined body, a strong tail, flippers, and a tail fin. Their hind legs, which previously served them on land, were no longer used for walking but possibly for mating.

“Whales’ evolution from land-dwelling animals to beautiful marine creatures embodies the marvelous, adventurous journey of life,” Sallam said. “Tutcetus is a remarkable discovery that  documents one of the first phases of the transition to a fully aquatic lifestyle that took place in that  journey.”

The team’s findings have been published in Communications Biology, an open-access journal from Nature Portfolio publishing high-quality research, reviews and commentary in all areas of the biological sciences.

Through detailed analyses of the teeth and bones of Tutcetus using CT scanning, the team reconstructed the growth and development pattern of the species. Rapid dental development and small bone size suggest that the whale was precocial, meaning it was able to move and feed itself from birth.

The discovery also adds to our understanding of basilosaurids as successful, competitive, and adaptable during their transition from land to sea. The team’s findings suggest that this transition likely occurred in the (sub)tropics.

“Modern whales migrate to warmer, shallow waters for breeding and reproduction, mirroring the conditions found in Egypt 41 million years ago,” explained Abdullah Gohar, a PhD student at Mansoura University, member of Sallam Lab, and a co-author of the study. “This supports the idea  that what is now known as Fayoum was a crucial breeding area for ancient whales.”

Egypt dig unearths 41 mln-year-old Whale in desert -Tutcetus rayanensis-

The study’s lead author, Mohammed Antar, from the MUVP and the National Focal Point for Natural Heritage, added, “Tutcetus significantly broadens the size range of basilosaurid whales and reveals considerable disparity among whales during the middle Eocene period.

The investigation of early layers in Fayoum may reveal the existence of an older assemblage of early whale fossils, potentially influencing our current knowledge of the development of whales.”

One thing is certain: this major discovery is likely one of many more to come. In recent years, Sallam and his team’s discoveries include the bones of a 34-million-year-old rodent, a 37-million-year-old gigantic catfish, snake and legless lizard fossils, and the first evidence of a 100-million-year-old Abelisauroid, a meat-eating dinosaur, in Egypt’s Bahariya Oasis, among others.

“The Eocene fossil sites of Egypt’s Western Desert have long been the world’s most important for understanding the early evolution of whales and their transition to a fully aquatic existence,” said Erik Seiffert, chair and professor of integrative anatomical sciences at the University of Southern California and a co-author of the study. “The discovery of Tutcetus demonstrates that this region still has so much more to tell us about the fascinating story of whale evolution”.

Fayoum Oasis, some 150 kilometres (90 miles) southwest of Cairo, boasts Wadi al-Hitan, the Valley of the Whales, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has turned up hundreds of fossils of some of the earliest forms of Whale.

Now an oasis in the Western Desert, Fayoum lay under a tropical sea in the Eocene period 56 to 34 million years ago.