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Last Updated: Friday, 15 July, 2005, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
Africa World Heritage sites named
South Africa's Vredefort Dome (Copyright Unesco)
Vredefort Dome has a radius of 190km
Two natural wonders of Africa have been added to a list of protected World Heritage sites by the United Nations.

The world's largest and oldest meteorite crater, the Vredefort Dome, in South Africa was added for its scenic and scientific interest.

Egypt's Wadi al-Hitan, known as Whale Valley, was listed for its amazing fossil remains of now-extinct whales.

Six other world sites were also announced by Unesco, the UN's cultural body, at its meeting in South Africa.

Body changes

Some 120km south-west of Johannesburg, Vredefort Dome - which has a radius of 190km - is estimated to date back some 2 billion years.

Egypt's Wadi al-Hitan (Copyright Unesco)
These [Whale Valley] fossils represent one of the major stories of evolution
It is crucial to our understanding of the planet's evolution, Unesco says, because meteorite impacts caused great global and evolutionary change.

"Vredefort Dome bears witness to the world's greatest known single energy release event, which caused devastating global change," Unesco says.

The Whale Valley fossils, in Egypt's western desert, show the evolution of the whale as an ocean-going mammal from a previous life as a land-based animal.

Whale fossils can be found at Wadi al-Hitan that show animals in the last stages of losing their hind limbs.

"The number, concentration and quality of such fossils here is unique, as is their accessibility and setting in an attractive and protected landscape," Unesco says.

The committee is due to add new cultural sites to its list in the coming days.

Watch footage of the stunning locations

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