Washington, April 29 (ANI): A scientist has used the help of Google Earth in discovering a trove of mammal fossils that may shed light on the origins of African wildlife.
The scientist in question is University of Michigan paleontologist Philip Gingerich, who learned of a whale fossil from Egypt that had been discovered in a most unconventional way.
At a stonecutting yard in Italy, masons had noticed what looked like cross-sections of a skeleton in slabs cut from a huge hunk of limestone imported from Egypt.
Paleontologist Giovanni Bianucci of the University of Pisa recognized these as fossilized remains of a whale that lived in Egypt 40 million years ago, when the region was covered by ocean.
Gingerich wanted to visit the site where the limestone was quarried, but the exact location was something of a mystery.
Bianucci had reported that the countertop whale came from a site near the Egyptian city of Sheikh Fadl, but a colleague in Egypt told Gingerich the quarry was probably farther east.
Instead of setting out blindly across the desert, Gingerich sat down at his computer and clicked on Google Earth.
After locating Sheikh Fadl, he scanned eastward until he found a range of limestone bluffs trailing across the desert like the backbone of some enormous serpent.
Continuing his virtual expedition, Gingerich followed the bluffs, looking for roads branching off the main highway that might lead to quarries.
Finally, about 75 miles east of Sheikh Fadl, he came across a road that traveled north to a deeply pocked area that just had to be a cluster of quarries.
Through associates in Egypt, Gingerich made arrangements to travel to Khasm el Raqaba, the area he had located on Google Earth.
"Sure enough, when we got there, there was a huge quarry operation with trucks everywhere, blasting out blocks of limestone," he said.
When Gingerich scanned the scene, he saw bands of red in the white limestone walls of the quarry, which represented layers of loose soil that were blown into ancient caves.
"Suddenly it dawned on me: There should be animals preserved in that sediment, too, because caves often act as traps," Gingerich said.
When he searched at the base of one rock outcrop, there were tiny bones everywhere.
The bones and teeth-remains of small mammals that lived in the early Miocene Epoch, some 18 to 20 million years ago-are the first small mammal fossils of that age to be found in Egypt.
They may even represent some of the first mammals to migrate from Asia to Africa when the land bridge between the two continents first formed.
"It's likely that animals moving from Asia to Africa passed through the Khasm el Raqaba area," Gunnell said. (ANI)