7m-year-old UAE tusker footprints trample record

Staff Reporter
Filed on February 23, 2012

DUBAI - Paleontologists working in Abu Dhabi’s Western region have uncovered elephant footprints that are seven million years old. The find is the oldest of its kind and possibly the longest preserved trackway in the world.

The British journal Biology Letters said the tracks were found at a site called Mleisa 1, in an area known as the Baynunah Formation.

The footprints came from a herd of at least 13 elephants, ranging from adults to a young calf, as they walked through mud, AFP reported. The tracks hardened and were buried. Seven million years later they were exposed once more through erosion. They are the oldest fossil evidence of an elephant herd, according to the report.

A larger imprint, distant from the others in the herd, is believed to be that of a male.

The traces provide the oldest direct evidence for the complex social structure among elephants — a society that is matriarchal and segregated by sex and has solitary and herding behaviours. Male elephants are raised in the family unit until adolescence. They then separate to lead lives that are mainly solitary, re-uniting with female-led groups from time to time, usually for mating. At 260 metres in length, the male’s footprints are exceptional, as they could be the longest continuous fossil trackway in the world. Faysal Bibi from the Museum fuer Naturkunde in Berlin led the study.

The name ‘Baynunah’ was only recently given to the rock formation, according to reports. They date back to between six and eight million years ago, falling into the Late Miocene epoch. An extinct river, known today as the Baynunah river, created the formation, which may have been part of the system represented by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The river drained a large portion of what is today the Arabian Desert. Over 900 fossils, of which some 43 species of vertebrates were recovered at the formation, added the report.

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