Thousands of Fossilized Elephant Footprints Preserved in the Arabian Desert

Thousands of footprints preserved in a windswept eroded rock surface deep in an isolated desert region of the Arabian peninsula tell the story of an ancient herd of elephants walking across an ancient muddy landscape.   These are possibly the longest continuous set of footprints in the world and have been described in an article in the journal, Biology Letters (1).   Additional background information about the discovery can be found HERE.  Analysis of the tracks has allowed scientists to estimates of the size and gate of an animal as well as their potential social relationships to each other.

But when were these tracks created? In the aerial view of the track-site below you can see the tracks disappear below rocks layers that sit above the rocks and have yet to erode from blowing sand.  Were it not for the fact that some of the footprints were concealed by up to 20 feet of rock layers and  that there are no elephants that live on the Arabian peninsula you could be forgiven for thinking that you might be looking at footprints that were made very recently in mud that had dried in the desert heat.  However, these footprints are preserved in rock, not dried mud, and conventional dating methods of the rocks layers in which the tracks are located estimate them to be 7 to 8 million years old.

Aerial image of the entire area where preserved elephant tracks are found.  If you look carefully you will notice that the tracks running north and south run right under two different rock outcrops and then reappear.  (See reference for authors)

In the image above you can see multiple sets of tracks that run 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 set – coming at a right angle – overlaps the others.  The multiple sets of tracks are interpreted as a group of 13 or more elephants that were traveling together as a herd.

A close up of some of the elephant tracks preserved in rock. In the left hand image you can see 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.

Elephant tracks are another in a long list of challenges to the young-earth view of earth history

The young-earth creationist (YEC), if they agree these are footprints in this rock, must find a way to fit these footprints into their very brief timelines of earth history.  But where? There are tens of thousands of feet of fossil-bearing rock layers below these footprints.  Therefore, in the YEC timeline, the footprints had to have been made either near the end of the Noah’s Flood or sometime later.

Could they have been made during the late stages of the flood like they believe dinosaur footprints were made? (see: Millions of Fossilized Footprints) Unlikely!  How could a herd of elephants including young old, males and females have survived a global catastrophe rafting around on floating vegetation only to find themselves walking across some fleeting mudflats before finally meeting their doom?

If they weren’t made by elephants that survived during Noah’s Flood then they must have been formed by the descendants the the pair of elephants that emerged from Noah’s ark. But there are serious flaws with this proposal as well, not least of which is that these footprints are preserved in rock that were once buried below tens of feet of layered rock. How could such rocks formations have formed after Noah landed his ark?

YECs often appeal to post-flood disasters but this region would not have been prone to massive flooding after the Flood. And even had some new layers of soil been deposited after the elephants wandered past, what process turned these layers of sediment into rock?  If sediments sitting at the surface commonly turn to stone within a short period of time why do we have soils that are hundreds of feet thick today all over the earth?  Why aren’t these still just sediments today like they were 4000 years ago?  Furthermore, the rock that once covered these footprints all had to be eroded to expose the footprints you see today.  What caused this erosion? Running water is clearly not something that has been available in any abundance for thousands of years at this site and so wind erosion represents the best source of erosion.  But it takes tens if not hundreds of thousands of years for significant erosion of rock to occur in this fashion.

Look at the picture (below) of this site a bit closer. You can see the clear signs that these footprints were originally made in mud that then dried, shrank and cracked before more sediment was deposited on top.  To dry mud, preserve it under sediments, convert the sediments to rock and then erode the rocks to re-expose the footprints is easily understood within an ancient earth model of Earth’s history. Once again we see an example in which the young-earth chronology of our planet provides no reasonable explanation for the observations we make of the world today.

The ancient elephant tracks go off into the distance. This look as if they could be tracks that were made and dried just days or months ago but the mudcracks and footprints you see here are preserved in stone.   Image Credit: Faysal Bibi/Discovery News

“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

One thought on “Thousands of Fossilized Elephant Footprints Preserved in the Arabian Desert

  1. Fascinating. How does the dry mud survive the first 50-100 years? It seems a storm or other natural event would destroy the footprints before it has a chance to fossilize.


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