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Ancient elephant tusk found near Ruwais

posted on 08/01/2003: 1104 views

Survey work for fossils in the Ruwais area of Abu Dhabi's Western Region has succeeded in finding the largest fossil elephant tusk ever found in the Middle East area, it is announced today. The work is being carried out by the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey, ADIAS, with support from the Abu Dhabi Oil Refining Company, (TAKREER), the oil refinery arm of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, ADNOC, Group. The tusk, which is a total of 2.54 metres in length, was discovered in late October in a location that is to be developed by TAKREER as the location for its new Central Environment Protection Facilities Project (BeAAT) in Ruwais.

The purpose of the survey work being undertaken by ADIAS is to identify all the key spots within the area scheduled for development, and to recover the fossils. So far, a total of around 5,000 individual fossil fragments have been collected during the ADIAS work, many of them sufficiently large and well-preserved to permit identifications to be made of the animals from which they came. The fossil elephant tusk, the most important of the finds, is of probable Late Miocene date, from a period around six to eight million years ago when the Western Region of Abu Dhabi was an area of well-wooded savannah plains and slow-moving rivers, rather like the East Africa of today.

Other Late Miocene fossils have been found elsewhere in the Western Region by researchers from London's Natural History Museum and Yale University, but the tusk is the largest single fossil of this type and date ever found over an area that stretches from Pakistan in the east to North Africa in the west. "We are stunned by this discovery," says Dr. Mark Beech, the Senior Resident Archaeologist for ADIAS. "Only a very small part of the tusk, a few centimetres long, was initially visible on the surface, though we suspected that it might be an important find."

In mid-November, with support from volunteers from the Emirates Natural History Group and the Terrestrial Environment Research Centre of the Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency, ERWDA, Dr. Beech and ADIAS colleagues returned to the site to excavate the find. "Once we had excavated the tusk, it was obvious that we needed to use some very special techniques to lift it and get it back to Abu Dhabi," says Dr. Beech, who has also discovered Miocene fossils in Kuwait and Pakistan. "It was very fragile and needed careful conservation on the site. We estimated that the tusk, along with a special case to protect it, would weigh up to 400 kilograms."

In early December, with the support of TAKREER, who provided special logistics equipment, including a lorry and a crane, Dr. Beech, ADIAS colleagues and a scientist specially flown out from Britain's University of York, Will Higgs, returned to the site. The tusk was first carefully treated with chemicals to prevent it crumbling, then special foam was used around the tusk to protect it, before it could be lifted onto a truck for transporting back to Abu Dhabi. The tusk is now awaiting further conservation treatment, following which it will be placed on display by ADIAS and ERWDA. "We are delighted that our sponsorship of this ADIAS work has yielded such magnificent results, " says a TAKREER Official. "Once we had settled on this area for our new Central Environment Protection Facilities Project (BeAAT), we promptly commissioned an initial survey by ADIAS in April 2002 to check for the presence of archaeological and fossil sites, as part of our continuing policy to protect the UAE's environment and heritage.

Once ADIAS informed us of the presence of important fossils in the area, we decided to support further studies. This discovery represents an important addition to our knowledge of the UAE's heritage, and TAKREER is proud to have played a part in the process." ADIAS Executive Director Peter Hellyer praises TAKREER for its support. "TAKREER have been enormously supportive of our work," he says. "Not only did they commission our initial survey in April 2002, but they immediately recognised the significance of our initial discoveries and agreed to give us the further support we needed to continue the studies.

The results show, once again, the value for the country of close collaboration between the oil industry and environmental and archaeological bodies like ERWDA and ADIAS." The Ruwais tusk may come from a primitive form of elephant commonly found during the Late Miocene in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi called Stegotetrabelodon syrticus (Tassy, 1999). Further work is required once the tusk is conserved, however, to confirm this identification.

Besides the elephant tusk, a number of other important fossil finds have been made by ADIAS in the Ruwais survey area. These include a probable hippopotamus skull, an elephant jaw, fragments of elephant teeth, crocodile jaws and teeth, leg bones of ancestors of the gazelle, and numerous fragments of eggshells from ancestors of the ostrich.

In all, nearly 60 previously unrecorded fossil sites have so far been identified. "This group of sites at Ruwais could very well prove to be one of the most important fossil localities of its period ever found in Arabia," says Beech. "And, although some of the area will be developed, a large part of the site, covering several square kilometres, will now be protected, thanks to collaboration between TAKREER, ADIAS and ERWDA." Pictures of some of the Ruwais fossil finds, as well as of other Late Miocene fossils from Abu Dhabi's Western region, can be found on the ADIAS website at: (The Emirates News Agency, WAM)


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