On January 15th, Egypt opened the Middle East’s first museum dedicated to fossils. The Fossils and Climate Change Museum, located at the Valley of the Whales in Wadi Al Hitan, showcases an early form of whale that is now extinct, known as the “walking whale.” The opening of the museum is part of a larger effort by the government to restore confidence and attract more tourists to the country.
Security was tight as media toured the new museum, located about 170km southwest of Cairo. Heavily armed military officers stood guard alongside plain-clothed policemen in Bedouin costumes.
This is in response to a long-running Islamic insurgency in the Sinai peninsula and a sharp decline in tourist numbers since the 2011 uprising that ousted longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The tourism industry was further shattered by the bombing of a Russian airliner over Sinai in 2015.
The centerpiece of the museum is the intact, 37 million-year-old, 20-meter-long skeleton of a legged form of whale. The fossil provides evidence of how modern-day whales evolved from land mammals. The museum also houses prehistoric tools used by early humans and various whale fossils exhibited in glass cases, illustrating the evolutionary transition of early whales from land to water creatures.
The construction of the Fossils and Climate Change Museum was helped by a $2.2 billion grant from Italy. The sand-colored, dome-shaped museum blends seamlessly with the surrounding desert landscape.
The museum’s architect, Gabriel Mikhail, said, “When you build something somewhere so beautiful and unique, it has to blend in with its surrounding… or it would be a crime against nature.” He added, “We are confident visitors will come.”
Egypt’s Environment Minister, Khaled Fahmy, cautioned against interpreting the museum’s opening as a “full endorsement of the theory of evolution,” which conflicts with Islam. “That is an entirely different matter,” he said. “We are still tied to our Islamic belief system.”n
The discovery of the massive 65-foot whale skeleton is a remarkable find that sheds new light on the evolution of modern-day whales. The opening of the Fossils and Climate Change Museum in Wadi Al Hitan is a significant step in preserving these fossils and showcasing them to the world.