Abu Dhabi: Millions of years ago Abu Dhabi was greener than it is today, with rivers teeming with hippos, crocodiles, turtles and fish. Forested areas and savanna-like grasslands supported animals such as elephants, rhinos, giraffes, horses, antelopes and ostriches.

The whole environment was totally different in a time known as the Late Miocene epoch, about 6-8 million years ago, according to recent discoveries in the Western Region.


A team from the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University in the US arrived in Abu Dhabi last December to continue their collaboration with the Historic Environment Department of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (Adach).

The Adach-Yale project concerns the investigation of the Baynunah Formation, a set of geological deposits rich in fossils which is exposed in Abu Dhabi's Western Region. The team, led by Professor Andrew Hill and Faysal Bibi from Yale University, worked in Abu Dhabi for one month surveying and mapping fossil sites.

The team has carried out surveys and excavations at Jaw Al Dibsa, Hamra and Shuwaihat. The highlights of this field season have been the excavation of a well preserved elephant jaw from Jaw Al Dibsa, as well as another pair of jaws from a primitive horse, known as a "hipparion" and a crocodile skeleton from Hamra.

Faysal Bibi of the joint team told Gulf News: "We came to Abu Dhabi in 2006 for a quick visit and we found out that more work has to be done. The following year we came with the full team.

"Animal fossils discovered by the team are around seven million years old.

Eight million years ago, life was just like it is today - whether there were humans on the landscape or not.

Animals thrived in an interesting period and "unlike the dinosaur era which has been documented as flourishing 60 to 200 million years ago, things were very different, with strange animals walking the earth.

"The interesting thing is these animals are recognisable versions and ancestors of the animals we know today," he said.

"It is like walking in a crazy zoo or a dream zoo and saying, 'That animal resembles an elephant but it is much smaller or much larger or it has four tusks'," Bibi added.

Most of the animals living in Abu Dhabi eight million years ago were similar to tropical and sub-tropical animals that are mostly restricted today to Africa and India, such as crocodiles, giraffes and elephants.

Preservation: Mapping the sites

Adach's Historic Environment team is currently working on an extensive project mapping the location of all the fossil sites within Abu Dhabi.

Most of the fossil sites are located along the coast of the Western Region, an area under threat from rapid development.

Dr Waleed Yaseen, head of the fossils section in the Historic Environment Department in Adach, told Gulf News: "Adach is working to preserve those sites as they are rare in the entire Arabian Peninsula."

Discovered sites will be protected.