Elephant footprints discovered in Western Abu Dhabi

Filed on December 10, 2003

ABU DHABI - Hundreds of footprints made by ancient elephants and other animals have been discovered in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi by a team from the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey (ADIAS), it was announced yesterday.

These fossil footprints are the first of their kind ever discovered in the Arabian Peninsula. Three sites with the footprints, believed to be six to eight million years old, were discovered in the Baynunah region, east of Ghayathi. The main footprint site, at Mleisa, is in the middle of a level whitish stone oval-shaped plain.

Following an approach by ADIAS and by the Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency (ERWDA) to Shaikh Mohammed bin Butti Al Hamed, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Municipality and Town Planning Department and Ruler's Representative in Abu Dhabi's Western Region, the Mleisa site has now been specially fenced by the municipality. It will now be included in the network of protected areas being developed by ERWDA.

An ADIAS team first identified the Mleisa site after hearing of a place with "dinosaur footprints' from a UAE national, Mubarak bin Rashid bin Mubarak Al Mansouri, Public Relations and Transport Co-ordinator for the Jebel Dhanna Terminal of the Abu Dhabi company for onshore oil operations, ADCO.

"We were initially sceptical,' says Peter Hellyer, the ADIAS executive director. "The rocks in the Baynunah area are much younger than the age of dinosaurs. But when Mubarak Al Mansouri led an ADIAS team to the site, we were amazed to find that there were, indeed, footprints crossing the rocky plain. They are from animals that lived many, many million years after the last dinosaur. But they are, nonetheless, of major international scientific importance.' "This discovery shows, once again, that the combination of scientific research and local knowledge can still produce magnificent results in terms of understanding the country's history and heritage."

Following the initial discovery, ADIAS carried out a detailed study of the main Mleisa site. Research by Will Higgs (University of Bradford, UK) and Dr Mark Beech (ADIAS senior resident archaeologist), suggests that the animals making the tracks were probably larger than the elephants of today. For comparative purposes, the tracks of three female Asian elephants (Elephas Maximus) were recorded at Blackpool Zoo in the UK in March this year. These elephants had a shoulder height of about 2.5 metres.

Comparison of the walking pattern of the modern elephants and of the fossil footprints suggests that the ancient elephants must have been significantly larger than their modern Asian counterparts, perhaps with a shoulder height of 3 metres or more.

Preliminary examination of the rock with the footprints suggests that it may be similar in age to other rocks with the well-known Miocene fossils, known at other sites in the Western Region, such as Jebel Barakah, Jebel Dhanna, Ruwais and Shuwaihat.

Extensive collections of fossils have been made from a number of these sites, particularly of proboscidean (early elephant) bones. In November 2002 and in February 2003, an ADIAS team found two fossil elephant tusks, one 2.54 metres long and the other 1.9 metres long, at a site near Ruwais. The Mleisa fossil footprints may have been made by a similar animal, perhaps an early elephant known as Stegotetrabelodon Syrticus, which had four tusks, unlike the two-tusk elephants of today.

There are also traces of other tracks made by antelopes and other smaller animals at one of the Mleisa sites. At the time these tracks were made in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi this area was a land of rivers and plains, rather like today's Savannahs of East Africa.


ABU DHABI - The Mleisa trackways and other fossil sites in the Western Region provide a unique opportunity to study Abu Dhabi as it was six to eight million years ago.

The study, being co-ordinated by ADIAS in association with ERWDA, will later lead to an exhibition of some of the major fossil finds. "These discoveries are of international importance,' says Majid Al Mansouri, Secretary-General of ERWDA.

"Together with ADIAS, we now have an opportunity not only to study Abu Dhabi's environment of today, but also to learn more about the environment of the distant past. We look forward to working with ADIAS on the further study of the site." "We are most grateful," he adds, "To his excellency Shaikh Mohammed bin Butti Al Hamed, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Municipality and Town Planning Department and Ruler's Representative in the Western Region, for his prompt orders that the Mleisa site should be protected as a unique part of the UAE's national heritage."

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