|Marilyn Fox of Yale's Peabody Museum and Walid Yasin of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage excavate the lower jaw of a fossil elephant at the site of Hamra, Abu Dhabi.
Team learns Abu Dhabi
desert once lush habitat
A region of the Abu Dhabi Emirate that is now a desert was teeming with
subtropical wildlife — including crocodiles, hippos, turtles and elephants — about
6 to 8 million years ago, according to Andrew Hill, the Clayton Stephenson
Class of 1954 Professor of Anthropology.
Hill announced the finding at a meeting on Jan. 8 in Abu Dhabi organized by the
Abu Dhabi Authority on Culture and Heritage (ADACH) and the Emirates Natural
The discovery that the Western Region of the Abu Dhabi Emirate was once a river-fed
habitat was made as part of a joint ADACH-Yale project. Working with geological
investigators, the paleon?tologists based their conclusion on fossils they recovered
from the geological deposits of the emirate’s Baynunah Formation.
In the late Miocene Epoch, 6 to 8 million years ago, a vast system of shallow
rivers ran through Abu Dhabi, fostering forests and grasslands that supported
such fauna as ostriches, antelopes, catfish and horses, say the researchers.
Not only do the fossils offer a record of Abu Dhabi’s particular environmental
heritage, Hill says, but because Abu Dhabi is situated at the intersection of
Asia, Africa and Europe, its rich repository of fossils provides a key to understanding
the three great bio-geographic zones of the world at a period of significant
The ADACH-Yale project is directed by Hill, who also heads Yale’s Division
of Anthropology and is a curator at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History,
and by Faysal Bibi, a doctoral student in Yale’s Department of Geology & Geophysics.
The team began its work in Abu Dhabi on Dec. 8.
The ADACH-Yale team surveyed about a dozen sites, most located along the coastline.
Among several important new fossil specimens recovered recently are the pelvic
bones of a now-extinct ancestor of the ostrich, jawbones of elephants and a hippopotamus,
and the partial skeleton of a small crocodile.
The team has also been studying track marks of elephants and other animals preserved
at inland sites.
Most of the late-Miocene fossils are found in a region that is rapidly being
developed, and the Yale team is providing ADACH with recommendations for site
Hill stressed that the Peabody Museum — with more than 12 million specimens,
very active research programs and a large number of public and educational programs — is
well placed to provide advice and training to colleagues in Abu Dhabi and to
assist in displays of the invaluable fossil records they find.
It is expected that, over the next four or five years, there will be additional
ADACH-Yale projects in the Western Region that will uncover more deeply buried
clues to Abu Dhabi’s remote past.
Additional Yale team members included Marilyn Fox and Walter Joyce, chief preparator
and collections manager, respectively, in the Division of Vertebrate Paleontology
at the Peabody Museum; and Professor David Evans and doctoral student Daniel
Peppe, in Yale’s Department of Geology and Geophysics.
The field team also included Professor Ali Haidar, a geologist from the American
University of Beirut, Lebanon, as well as members of ADACH’s Historic Environment
Department. These included Walid Yasin, head of the Archaeology Division; Mark
Beech, head of the Cultural Landscapes Division; and Ali El-Meqbali and Hamdan
Al-Rashidi, field archaeologists.
The ADACH-Yale research project is principally supported by ADACH, as well as
by grants from the Revealing Hominid Origins Initiative (part of the U.S. National
Science Foundation), the Yale Peabody Museum’s Division of Vertebrate Paleontology
and the Yale Office of the Provost.
— By Dorie Baker
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