A team of international researchers say they have uncovered ancient fossilized elephant footprints.
The researchers say the prints are 7-million-years old.
Scientists say the fossil footprints, found in a stretch of land in the Arabian Desert, indicates ancient elephants traveled in herds, not unlike modern elephants.
According to a press release, this discovery at the Mleisa 1 site in the United Arab Emirates denotes the "oldest known evidence of how elephant ancestors interacted socially."
The discovery was made through aerial photos which were taken by a remotely operated camera secured to a kite which flew above the region. BBC News reported this region is well-known to locals, it was first studied by scientists in 2001. However, it wasn't until the images taken from above showed greater detail that scientists were able to see what they consider a significant find, providing the social-aspects of ancient elephant behavior.
“Once we saw it aerially, it became a much different and clearer story,” Brian Kraatz, one of the researchers on the international team, said. “Seeing the whole site in one shot meant we could finally understand what was happening.”
Researchers have indicated this herd consisted of at least 13 elephants, with varied ages ranging from adults to a young calf. Live Science reported the area studied is large, and equates to about nine U.S. football fields (5 hectares).
With this find, scientists feel it has opened up an ability to recreate the socialized living habits of elephants living seven million years ago. And the researchers believe what they've found closely resembles the habits of modern day elephants.
For instance, is not uncommon for males to leave the group once maturity is reached and go off exploring and/or joining other groups. Researchers found within these tracks a 853-foot-long separate set of perpendicular footprints of a larger solo animal, presumably a male.
Additionally, none of the tracks crossed, which scientists say indicates these footprints most likely come from a herd traveling together through a muddy region which dried out and the prints were buried. These footprints were captured in fossilized preservation, and later revealed through erosion.
“Basically, this is fossilized behavior,” said Dr. Faysal Bibi, primary author of the study, in the press release. “This is an absolutely unique site, a really rare opportunity in the fossil record that lets you see animal behavior in a way you couldn’t otherwise do with bones or teeth.”
The study detailing the find at Mleisa 1 is outlined in the Feb. 22 edition of the journal Royal Society Biology Letters.