Archaeologists continue to unearth Abu Dhabi’s early history with the discovery of a new species of prehistoric hippopotamus in the emirate.
Dating back to the late Miocene period, the Archaeopotamus qeshta was thought to roam the Al Dhafra region around six to eight million years ago.
The discovery was made during excavations at the Baynunah archaeological site, which unearthed the jawbone of the previously undiscovered species.
Smaller in stature than the hippopotamus, the ancient beast has been estimated to weigh a hefty 500 kilos from its skeletal remains, and has a narrower snout than its modern-day counterpart.
“The Al Dhafra area is unusual in that it has this big geological formation called the Baynunah Formation,” explained Dr Mark Beech, head of coastal archaeology and palaeontology in the historic environment department of Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority.
“This location is the best exposure of late Miocene period geology anywhere in Arabia,” he added. “It gives a great insight into the animals and plants that lived six to eight million years ago.
“We know that there were extensive rivers in the Al Dhafra area and that the climate was different; it was much greener and wetter at different moments.”
Creatures sharing the habitat alongside the ancient hippo included freshwater fish, crocodiles and turtles, as well as elephants, antelopes and giraffes.
“These animals are fascinating because they’re the ancient ancestors of our modern species we have in the world today,” explained Dr Beech.
“There’s a growing awareness that it’s not just glass towers in the desert here anymore, there’s so much more history to it than that,” Dr Beech commented.
“It’s far from being an empty desert,” he continued. “The UAE has always been a kind of crossroads, both from the perspective of culture and nature.”