Preservation of Behavior: Fossilized Elephant Tracks from the Arabian Peninsula

A fascinating set of fossilized tracks from the United Arab Eremites have been described recently in the journal Biology Letters.   Additional background information about the find can be found HERE.  The tracks have been described as having been formed by elephants and are possibly the largest continuous set of trackways discovered to date of any animal.  Tracks allow estimates of the size and gate of an animal as well as their relationship to other animals.  In this case there is evidence that most of the tracks were formed at one time and so represent a group of ancient elephants and thus tell us that this probable extinct species of elephant behaved similarly to modern elephant species.

Aerial image of the entire area where preserved elephant tracks are found. (See reference for authors)

In the image above you can see multiple sets of tracks that on a north/south line and a single set of tracks that crosses those tracks.  The scientists investigating these tracks think it is likely that these two sets of tracks were produced at different times as the one overlaps the others.  The multiple sets of tracks run parallel to one another indicating that this was a group of 13 or more elephants that were traveling together as herd. By measuring the distance between footsteps for each set of tracks the authors of the paper were able to estimate the size of each animal and thereby showing that there were a mixture of sized elephants typical of a modern day elephant herd.

A close up of some of the elephant tracks preserved in rock. In the left hand image you can a small outcrop of rock that has not eroded indicating that this entire area was at one time covered by at least this much rock which has eroded over time, probably by the action of blowing sand. The prints are found in one layer of rock (TL) and there are thin layers of rock (TL+1 and TL+2) that lie just above them that have not completely eroded in all locations thus obscuring what would be an even larger area where the tracks are likely preserved. (From the paper by

I am not sure how young earth creationists will respond to these tracks.   These rocks are very young by modern geological estimations (7 million years) and so fit into the very late formation rocks of a global flood but it seems unlikely that creationists will argue that a herd of elephants was taking a peaceful stroll on top of newly formed sediments that sit above 20,000 additional feet of fossil bearing layers of rock right at the end of the flood.  On the other hand, if these record a post-flood group of elephants how then were these many layers of rock (in the surrounding area that are hundreds of feet of rocks that sit above these rocks present that quite evidently covered this set of tracks at one time before being eroded) deposited on top of these elephant tracks?

References/credits:
“Early evidence for complex social structure in Proboscidea from a late Miocene trackway site in the United Arab Emirates”
Faysal Bibi, Brian Kraatz, Nathan Craig, Mark Beech, Mathieu Schuster and Andrew Hill.  Biology Letters.  February 22, 2012, doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2011.1185

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