Abu Dhabi: Yale University is in talks with the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH) regarding preservation of eight-million-year-old fossils from the Western Region.

Professor Andrew Hill, Department of Anthropology at Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, described a study of the fossils which has revealed that, millions of years ago, Abu Dhabi's environment was very different from the current arid desert landscape.

According to Hill, in the late Miocene era, around six million years ago, Abu Dhabi had a system of shallow rivers that supported a diverse ecosystem teeming with hippos, crocodiles, turtles and catfish.

Animals such as monkeys, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, horses, antelopes, and ostriches occupied forested areas and savanna-like grasslands in surrounding areas.

"The fossils are important locally as well as globally due to their appeal and heritage value. They constitute the best fossil site of any age in the whole of Arabia and provide information on this important time period," said Hill.

Distinctive animals

In the last ten million years, the capital city was a biological crossroad between the continents of Asia, Europe, and Africa. Consequently Arabia largely controlled the distinctive nature of animal life in these three biogeographic zones of the world.

The fossil collection, called the Baynunah Formation (BP), represents the only known terrestrial fossil-bearing rocks from the late Miocene age in the entire Arabian Peninsula, and thus is of vital importance to paleontologists.

Most of the late Miocene fossil sites located along the coast of the Western Region are subject to heavy construction and rapid development. As part of their work, the Yale team is providing ADACH with advice on protecting the sites.

Moreover, the ADACH-Yale teams are currently investigating the BP. The work follows on from previous paleontological investigations conducted between 1989 and 1995, also co-directed by Hill, which resulted in a monograph published by Yale University Press (Fossil Vertebrates of Arabia, 1999).

Hill described the current work involving surveys of about a dozen sites, mostly located along the coastline. Among several important new fossil specimens recovered this season is the synsacrum (the pelvic bone and associated structures) of an extinct ratite bird (a relative of the ostrich), jawbones of elephants, a hippopotamus, and the partial skeleton of a small crocodile.

Elephant tracks

In addition, the Yale team has been studying a cluster of inland sites that preserve tracks made by elephants and other animals that roamed through the region.

"It is expected and hoped that this visit will be just the first in an annual series of ADACH-Yale projects in the western region over the next four or five years, during which it is anticipated that much more will be learned about the life and landscapes of Abu Dhabi in the remote past," said Hill.