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40 million-year-old remains found

Hazel Heyer, eTN Staff Writer  May 20, 2009

An Egyptian mission found remains dating as far back as 40 million years ago
in an area to the north of Lake Qarun in the Faiyum region. The site is rich
in archaeological and paleontology remains, confirmed Egypt’s minister of
culture Farouk Hos

Dr. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities
(SCA), said that the 10-kilometer-wide area is currently being excavated to
prevent valuable information from being lost to planned tourism development
in the area. (Tourist attractions like Egypt’s Grand Museum are starting to
arrive. The biggest museum in the world houses outdoor and indoor sections,
the largest Ramses II statue which was moved from its famous location on
Ramses Square in Cairo to the museum entrance, and a host of 80,000
artifacts now moved to Faiyum).

Following a preliminary survey that began about a year ago, full-scale
excavations have been underway since March 10, 2009. SCA archaeologists
have found many artifacts in the area dating to the prehistoric period,
including arrowheads and other finely crafted stone artifacts of Mousterian,
Levallois, and Aterian type.

SCA has also uncovered pottery and stone beads dating to the same era, along
with the remains of shelters used by prehistoric hunters. Archaeological
remains from later periods are also present in the area. A cemetery that
most probably dates to the Greco-Roman period has yielded coins and other
small artifacts. The team also explored a tomb in this cemetery consisting
of a deep shaft ending in two chambers, but further excavation is hampered
by constantly shifting sands.

In addition to the prehistoric and Greco-Roman remains found in the area,
the archaeologists have revealed pottery, pipes, coins, and glassware traced
to the Fatimid and Mamluk periods. Other finds include medical and cosmetic
tools, as well as stone shot used in hunting animals during the Islamic era.

Fossils of whales and other marine life dating back to around 40 million
years ago have been uncovered in the area. In addition to cetaceans like
those unearthed in the famous Valley of the Whales to the west of the
Faiyum, the SCA team found remains of sea cows and sawfish. These fossils
are the remnants of a time when much of northern Egypt was submerged under
an ancient sea.

SCA archaeologist Khaled Saad, who is supervising the excavations under the
direction of Hawass, said that the area is of great archaeological

Hawass added that the excavation was initiated in response to a plan by the
Egyptian ministry of tourism to build hotels and resorts on the northern
shore of Lake Qarun. The ongoing SCA excavations will ensure that valuable
archaeological evidence is not lost to development, while reinforcing the
need to protect all of Egypt’s ancient monuments for the future.

Years back, on the northeastern side of Lake Qarun in Qaret Al-Rusas
village, without excavating, people stumbled upon clear ancient wall lines
and streets in an orthogonal pattern - typical of the Graeco-Roman period.
The site was covered by the waters of Lake Qarun at an unknown time and for
an unknown period, as not only the surface is completely leveled but
potsherds and limestone flakes are covered with a thick layer of calcium
carbonate, which is usually indicative of a stand of 30-40cm deep water. On
the northern edge of the Faiyum depression, a team found remains of a
Graeco-Roman city.

A University of Michigan team excavated the site between 1926 and 1935, and
found homes in excellent condition with many organic remains having survived
through the ages. However, the site was not backfilled, and hence sustained
damage to the buildings caused by rainfall and wind erosion. Excavations in
the area uncovered remains of an ancient creek or pond. At that moment, it
had not been established whether this fresh water source existed alongside
the town or during earlier years. The main purpose of the survey was to
better understand the archaeological and zoo-archaeological remains at
Karanis in a well-excavated context, as well as to understand the life and
economic activities of the people who lived in Karanis on Fayoum.

Today, the paleontology clues north of the Lake Qarun verify information
linked to the study by the Michigan team of experts, followed by a team from
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) who unearthed an intact
Neolithic settlement and the remnants of a Graeco-Roman village in Faiyum,
while carrying out a magnetic survey. The magnetic survey revealed that the
settlement was much larger than expected, and includes remains of mud-brick
walls as well as clay fragments.

40 million-year-old remains found

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