A new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), used drawings by ancient Egyptians to create a catalogue of many animals that lived there 6,000 years ago. Scientists studied the data to come up with a way to chart which species have gone extinct in the past few thousand years.
From examining the drawings, the authors of the study found that there were once 37 species of large mammals in Egypt. Today, there are only eight species remaining. The study's authors found that when there were many species of animals in the Nile, the extinction of any one species did not have a large effect on the entire ecosystem. However, now that there is much less diversity among animals in the present day, any extinction will have a larger impact on the ecosystem.
The authors found that once, 6,000 years ago, animals such as lions, hartebeests, and giraffes roamed the Egypt, but today most of these have become extinct in the region.
"What was once a rich and diverse mammalian community is very different now," Justin Yeakel, lead author of the study, said. "As the number of species declined, one of the primary things that was lost was the ecological redundancy of the system."
The study utilized the research of Dale Osborn, who extensively studied the animals of Ancient Egypt. He used various records left by Egyptians, such as ancient drawings and other evidence, to track species that lived in Egypt long ago. He laid out a database tracking when animals appeared in artwork and when they stopped appearing, implying that the animals had disappeared from the region.
Yeakel and co-author Nathaniel Dominy got the inspiration to begin the study four years ago when they visited an exhibit on Tutankhamun. They realized that the Egyptian drawings were based on things the people had seen, and that they had the potential to teach us about what the world was like in Ancient Egypt. The pair knew that Dale Osborn had compiled extensive information about the animals of Ancient Egypt, so they brainstormed ways to use that data and came up with this study.