Yale-Abu Dhabi Research Team Finds Evidence of Ancient Subtropical Environment in the Arid Emirate

Six to eight million years ago, the Western Region of the Abu Dhabi Emirate was a lush landscape teeming with subtropical wildlife, according to Andrew Hill, the Clayton Stephenson Class of 1954 Professor of Anthropology at Yale.

Before a meeting on January 8 in Abu Dhabi organized by the Abu Dhabi Authority on Culture and Heritage (ADACH) and the Emirates Natural History Group, Hill described the joint ADACH-Yale project leading to the startling discovery that the arid desert of the Emirate’s Western Region was once the river-fed habitat of crocodiles, hippos, turtles and elephants.

Working with geological investigators, the paleontologists 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, the researchers say, a vast system of shallow rivers ran through Abu Dhabi providing forests and grasslands that supported such fauna as ostriches, antelopes, catfish and horses.

Not only do the fossils offer a record of Abu Dhabi’s particular environmental heritage, Hill said, but, situated at the intersection of Asia, Africa and Europe, Abu Dhabi, with its rich repository of fossils, provides a key to understanding the three great bio-geographic zones of the world at a period of significant biological development.

The ADACH-Yale project, directed by Hill, who also heads the Division of Anthropology and is a curator at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, and Ph.D. student Faysal Bibi (Yale Department of Geology & Geophysics), began its work in Abu Dhabi December 8, 2007.

Additional Yale team members included Marilyn Fox (Chief Preparator), and Walter Joyce (Collections Manager), both in the Division of Vertebrate Paleontology of the Peabody Museum, and Professor David Evans and Ph.D. student Daniel Peppe, of the Yale 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 Dr. Walid Yasin (Head of Division: Archaeology), Dr. Mark Beech (Head of Division: Cultural Landscapes), Ali El-Meqbali and Hamdan Al-Rashidi (Field archaeologists).

In his talk, Hill described the current work of the ADACH-Yale team involving surveys of 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 protection.

Hill stressed in his talk 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 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 more deeply buried clues to Abu Dhabi’s remote past will come to light.

The ADACH-Yale research project is principally supported by ADACH, as well as by other grants from the Revealing Hominid Origins Initiative (U.S. National Science Foundation), the Division of Vertebrate Paleontology of the Yale Peabody Museum, and the Office of the Provost, Yale University.

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Media Contact

Dorie Baker: dorie.baker@yale.edu, 203-432-1345