Fossil Sites Overview


The distant coastline of Abu Dhabi, Western Region, viewed from a jebel about 40km inland.

The jebels scattered along the coastal plain of Abu Dhabi's Western Region are the only vertebrate-bearing Late Miocene rocks known from Arabia (Whybrow and Hill, 1999). The majority of the fossils collected by the Natural History Museum/Yale University team come from Baynunah Formation outcrops (Whybrow et al, 1999; Whybrow, 1989; Whybrow et al., 1990) located between the road from As Sila to Abu Dhabi and the coast. Here, fluvial clastics deposited by a major river system (Friend, 1999) contain remains of invertebrates, reptiles, birds and mammals as well as poorly fossilised plant material. Few vertebrate fossils have been found at localities to south of the main road. The jebels in this area lack the gravels and coarse sandstone lithologies seen in the lower part of the Baynunah Formation at the coastal exposures; sediments forming these southern jebels might be higher in the Miocene sequence (the "upper" part of the Baynunah in Friend, 1999). The most eastern fossiliferous locality is south of Tarif. Here a magnificent partial skull of Tragoportax cyrenaicus (Gentry, 1999b) was the only fossil found in homogeneous red coloured sandstone (a road cut exposure) by staff of the United States Geological Survey (Hill et al., 1999).

Excepting the sea cliff outcrops of the Baynunah Formation, "clean" exposures of Miocene sediments are rare. The region is hyper-arid and during the 15 years or so of work by the Natural History Museum/Yale University team, torrential rain has occurred just five times. Detritus, a mixture of weathered Miocene sediments with modern wind-blown sand, on the slopes of most jebels can be 20 cm deep before un-weathered rock is reached. It is likely that material collected early during the project, 1989-1992, had been exposed for several decades.

Although the Baynunah Formation crops out in an area of about 1,8002 km, the 900+ fossils identified so far come from a 5,602 km area. Except for the disarticulated, scattered bones of a proboscidean found at Shuwaihat (Andrews, 1999; Tassy, 1999), almost all vertebrate fossils are found as isolated elements, often fragmented by extremes of temperature and rehydration of microcrystalline gypsum during precipitation of winter fog and dew.

During the period that the Natural History Museum/Yale University team, and others, have been finding fossils from the Baynunah Formation, we have collected all material from each locality that might be identifiable so that a possible collecting bias is minimised (Hill, 1987). However, some bias has been unavoidable because further collecting at some localities has not been possible, especially from 1992. The development of the Western Region, Emirate of Abu Dhabi, proceeds rapidly. Access to some localities that were relatively easy to visit in the early 1980's is now prohibited. We have suggested to the Emirate of Abu Dhabi authorities that some localities should be conserved for the scientific heritage of the Emirate as well as for international science. This suggestion was, in 1995, well received and it is likely that Shuwaihat will be recognised as a locality of scientific heritage. No progress has been made since that time and in 2001 it was noticable that there was an increase in "holiday homes" and associated rubbish on Shuwaihat.

Here we list (see Contents) and describe the localities and sites (within these localities), from west to east and their fauna and flora. The geographical coordinates listed for the sites were obtained using the GPS system. Although the error is said to be in the region of 25 metres (most sites cover a greater area than this) and that the GPS was subject to degradation by the United States Department of Defense, good coordinates for the main sites (Jebel Barakah, Shuwaihat, Jebel Dhanna) were obtained during January 1991 at the time of the Gulf War.

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