Baynunah Geological Formation fossil sites in Abu Dhabi
Six to eight million years ago in the Al Dhafra Region, a system of wide rivers supported animals such as elephants, hippopotamuses, giraffes, monkeys, ostriches and crocodiles
Research over the years has revealed that, in the ancient past, the landscape and ecology of the Al Dhafra Region of Abu Dhabi was quite different to what is found today. Although there is evidence that arid conditions existed then, creatures were sustained by a large river system flowing through the area. The river and semi-arid climate supported grass, shrubs and trees, including palm and acacia trees. The animals living in this environment resembled those known from Africa during the same period, but there were also similarities with Asian and European species of that time. Fossils were found at a series of hills along the coastline of the Al Dhafra Region as well as the desert interior.
Animal fossils found in the deposits include a type of hippopotamus that was smaller and more primitive than today’s living hippopotamus of Africa. The elephant fossils showed an animal that had four tusks instead of the two on elephants today. Several species of giraffe and six species of antelope were found, suggesting a lightly wooded environment, rather than a desert environment. Three varieties of ancient turtle were found at the site, including a very large, land-based, plant-eating turtle that resembles the giant turtles of today. At least three kinds of fish lived in the river, providing food for crocodiles and land-based scavengers.
The Baynunah Geological Formation fossils most closely resemble prehistoric animals from North and East Africa, Pakistan and China. They have less resemblance to the European animals of this time. This suggests that during Baynunah times, animals could migrate freely in an east-west direction, but north-south movement may have been restricted by the barriers of ancient deserts, mountains or river systems.
The river had numerous channels, probably shallow at no more than three metres deep but in a network hundreds of metres across at its widest point. The river flowed year round, as is shown by the presence of large freshwater turtles and crocodiles, including the gharial, a fish-eating crocodile with a long, thin snout. At the same time, the presence of catfish suggests that the flow was sluggish or intermittent in some of the channels. There also were occasional periods when the river moved much faster, perhaps during monsoon rains. The sea level at that time was substantially lower than it is today and the marine coastline was about 300 kilometres to the east of its present location.
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