Monday, August 27, 2007

Damage to whale fossils

European diplomats in four-wheel drive cars have caused millions of dollars worth of damage to a fossilised whale lying for millions of years in the Egyptian desert, a security source said on Sunday. "Whale Valley officials have informed the authorities that people from two diplomatic corps vehicles destroyed the fossil," the source told AFP after the destruction was discovered around 150 kilometres (95 miles) south of Cairo.

Two cars drove into the protected area on Friday and then refused to stop when asked to do so by wardens who nevertheless got the vehicles' registration numbers which the source said were from "a European country."

"The damage is more than 10 million dollars," the source said. The site, known as Wadi Hitan (Whale Valley), was home to whales around 40 million years ago when the area was ocean. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to hundreds of of whale fossils.

There is a photograph of one of the whale skeletons on the above page.

At the symposium about northeast African archaeology in Poland in July, the subject of "adventure tourism" and the damage caused by irresponsible tourists to some of these important and beautiful areas which are not on the usual tourist routes was discussed frequently. Visitors who take souvenirs break up archaeolgical sites, removing the raw data from which entire communities and lifestyles can be resurrected on paper. Everyone welcomes responsible tourism, where visitors with a genuine interest are supervised by qualified personnel, but the question is how to filter out the idiots from the genuine articles. One of the suggestions was that fixed routes could be established through the desert areas, from which cars would not be permitted to deviate, and that only recognized guides should be allowed to accompany vistitors who would be limited fixed numbers. But it is difficult to see how or when this could or would be implemented. Very sad indeed.

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