41 million year old whale bones have been discovered in Egypt

Named “Tutcetus Rayanensis”, this whale is one of the oldest specimens of its species. The cetacean measured 2.5 meters in length and weighed 187 kg.

A team of paleontologists from the American University in Cairo pause in front of the bones of a basilosaurid whale discovered in Egypt.  (AFP PHOTO / HO / AMERICAN UNIVERSITY IN CAIRO (AUC))

Archaeologists have discovered the bones of a whale that lived in Egypt 41 million years ago, one of the specimens “the oldest of his family in Africa” now defunct, the American University in Cairo (AUC) announced Thursday, August 8. This whale was named “Tutcetus Rayanensis”, from the name of the child pharaoh Tutankhamun, from “cetus”, which means “whale” in Greek, and from Wadi al-Rayan, the Fayoum region, south of Cairo, where it was discovered. It is “the smallest basilosaurid whale yet discovered and one of the oldest specimens of this species in Africa”AUC said in a press release.

Length 2.5 meters and 187 kg

The discovery of this fossil represents a “a fundamental stage in the terrestrial to marine evolution of whales”, according to Hicham Salam, a member of the research team that found the skull, jaws, bones and vertebrae of the 2.5-meter-long, 187-kg animal. During this phase the whales “they have developed fish-like features such as a streamlined body, a strong tail, fins and show the last signs of limbs visible enough to be considered legs, probably not used for walking but for reproduction”described, quoted in the press release.

The fossil was found in a part of Egypt once covered by the sea, which also contains the Valley of the Whales, which contains fossil remains “invaluable”, according to UNESCO. Already in August 2021, Egyptian archaeologists discovered a 43-million-year-old fossil of a new species of amphibious whale in the Fayum region. More than three meters long and around 600 kilograms “Fioumicetus anubis”was then presented by Egypt as “the wildest and oldest whale in Africa”. In 2018, a team of scientists discovered the first dinosaur skeleton in Africa, more than 75 million years old.

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