Everyone has heard of Egypt's deserts romantically being called the "sands of time." This is typically a reference to the seemingly timeless history of the pyramids, sphinx, and temples of Ancient Egypt from around 4,500 to 4,000 years ago. But it turns out the Egyptian deserts really do encapsulate time - deep time. The Valley of Whales (called Wādī al-Ḥītān) is a World Heritage Listed site for its hundreds of fossils of some of the earliest forms of whales. Whale watching in the middle of the desert? That's a new one!

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If one is interested in dinosaur fossils, then there are plenty of excellent sites in the United States to explore to see the prehistoric creatures. One of the best places to see dinosaurs is the Dinosaur National Monument in Utah which preserves over 1,500 fossils of dinos. To discover the Pleistocene (Ice Age) in North America, the best place is in Los Angeles at the Brae Tar Pits.

How A Prehistoric Sea Is Preserved At The Valley Of Whales

The Valley of Whales is located around 150 kilometers or 93 miles southwest of Cairo and holds secrets to some of the greatest mysteries of the evolution of whales. Whales are mammals and their ancestors once lived on land, they descended to an ocean-going mammal from a land-based animal.

  • Located: 150 kilometers or 93 miles southwest of Cairo
  • Designated: World Heritage Since 2005

The Valley of Whales is unique for its concentration and quality of fossils. Adding to their touristic value is their accessibility and the natural beauty of the environment.

  • Prehistoric Sea: The Tethys Ocean

The world is constantly changing. Thirty-seven million years ago the deserts of Egypt were covered by the waters of the prehistoric Tethys Ocean. In this prehistoric ocean swam early 50-foot long wales with gaping jaws and jagged teeth.

As they died, they sank to the seafloor, and over thousands of millennia a mantle of sediment built up over their bones. The sediment preserved and fossilized their remains and as the sea receded, the former seabed became a desert.

Now the forces of erosion are continuing to work on the old seabed with the wind planing away the sandstone and shale entombing the whale bones.

Related: Messel Pit Fossils: The UNESCO Quarry & Window Into The Past

The Mystery Of Whale Evolution Revealed

The Valley of Whales is littered with more than just the prehistoric Basilosaurus (predatory whales), one can also find the ground strewn with fossil shark teeth (shark's cartilage skeletons don't normally fossilize), sea urchin spines, petrified mangrove bushes, petrified corals, the bones of giant catfish, and many other sea creatures that once swam the prehistoric seas.

  • Basilosaurus: A Large Pre-Historic Predatory Whale
  • See: the Full Length Of Ancient Predatory Whales
  • Other Creatures: Fossil Shark Teeth, Giant Catfish, Sea Urchins, And More

Basilosaurus was a whale, but one that still had the remains of hind legs. By this stage in the evolution of whales, they had already become useless - even if they were still perfectly formed yet tiny. The (evolutionarily speaking) fast evolution of whales as land animals to the superbly adapted swimmers they are today is one of the most profound stories of the animal kingdom.

  • Suborder: The Whale Basilosaurus Is Of The Suborder, Archaeoceti
  • Hind Limbs: The Remains Show The Whales In The Process Of Lossing Their Hind Limbs

Today the Valley of Whales is the site of numerous excavation sites of the whales and other creatures that once swam the shallow sea. It is not fully understood why there are so many ancient whale fossils of this type in this area.

The setting is one of impressive desert landscapes sculptured by wind-eroded rock platforms surrounded by sand dunes and hills.

Related: The World's "Living Fossils" & Where To Find Them

Tours of the Valley Of Whales

It is not hard to find tours of the Valley of Whales. Western Desert Tours offers one example of a 4-day tour of the desert. Their tour starts in Cairo and ends in Bahariya Oasis. This is a tour that provides a more impressive meaning of the term "ancient Egypt."

  • Tip: Combine The Valley Of Whales tour With The Many Other Egyptian Attractions In The Desert

The tour visits multiple sites of interest including the Faiyum Oasis, the Wadi al-Rayan Protected Area, the Valley of Whales, the hot and cold springs of Bahariya Oasis, the Agabat Valley, and the otherworldly White Desert National Park with its eye-catching natural formations crafted by the forces of nature.

For dates and prices of this tour, contact them to receive a quote.

Alternatively, there are also plenty of one-day tours out to the Valley of Whales from Cairo.