Wadi Hitan, Egypt
Whales Walked Here
In 1902, a team of geologists guided their camels into a valley in Egypt’s Western Desert—a desolate, dream-like place. Centuries of strong wind had sculpted sandstone rocks into alien shapes, and at night the moonlight was so bright that the sand glowed like gold. There was no water for miles. A nearby hill was known as “Mountain of Hell” because of the infernal summer heat.
Yet in this parched valley lay the bones of whales.
Some of the skeletons were 50 feet long, with vertebrae as thick as campfire logs. They dated back 37 million years, to an era when a shallow, tropical sea covered this area and all of northern Egypt.
And although the geologists didn’t realize it at the time, the prehistoric specimens in the sand would offer clues to one of evolution’s most nagging questions: how whales became whales in the first place. For these long-dead whales had feet.