6 to 8 million years old fossils to go on display

(By a staff reporter)
Filed on May 23, 2004

ABU DHABI - Remains of some of the oldest elephants ever found in Arabia are to go on display in Abu Dhabi later this year.

The remains include a 2.54 metre long tusk, parts of a skull and jaws and some ribs found as fossils in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi. The discoveries were made in the early 1990s by a joint team from the Natural History Museum in London and Yale University, and, more recently, by scientists from the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey (ADIAS).

The fossils date to the Late Miocene period, around 6-8 million years ago. At that time, the climate in the UAE was much wetter than it is today, and the landscape of the Western Region of Abu Dhabi would have looked something like the modern day East African savannah with trees and grassland areas and with large slow-moving rivers. Besides fossils of elephants, researchers have also discovered the remains of the ancient ancestors of gazelles, hippopotami, horses, birds, crocodiles, turtles and fish.

The special display will include only a few of the important fossils discovered during the fieldwork by the scientists, which covered an area stretching from Rumaitha, in the east, to beyond Jebel Dhanna, in the west, a distance of more than 150 kilometres. In all, over 8,000 fossils have been found, which together make up one of the most important collections in the world of fossils from this period.

A key feature of the display will be a model of a Late Miocene elephant created by Abdul Hafeez from the Taxidermy Unit of the Private Department of the President, His Highness Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

A special painting of life in Abu Dhabi during the Late Miocene period has also been commissioned from a British artist, Gemma Larkin, to form the backdrop to the exhibition.

ADIAS Executive Director Peter Hellyer said on Saturday: "We are extremely grateful to the Private Department for collaborating with us on this important project. Abdul Hafeez and Dr Mark Beech (ADIAS Senior Resident Archaeologist) have carefully worked together to produce the first ever scale model ever made of this primitive elephant species, Stegotetrabelodon syrticus, which unlike today's elephants had four, not two tusks. We hope that the display will give Abu Dhabi residents a good idea of what life was like here millions of years ago, and of the many animals that then lived in the Western Region."

"We are also grateful to the Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency, ERWDA, which will be housing the exhibition, and to the companies, both local and foreign, from the oil sector who have provided the support that has made the display possible," Hellyer said.

The exhibition is being backed by TAKREER, who also funded recent work by ADIAS at a major fossil site near Ruwais, the Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations, ADCO, who supported the fossil studies in the early 1990s by the Natural History/Yale University team, and international oil company BP have provided logistics support for ADIAS.

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