Fossils, the evidence of the earth’s billion-year history and a peek into the life that was present long before we began scripting history, have been a topic of fascination for hundreds of years now.
Deposits of fossil fauna and flora found in India in comparatively recent times gives us a glimpse into the life that thrived during the Mesozoic era—the age of dinosaurs.
Aeons before the world was divided into the political boundaries that exist today—even before the continents—the earth had a mother continent, Pangaea, and India was a hotspot for dinosaurs. This is evident from the fossils discovered in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
Here is the brief history of dinosaurs in the country:
1. Discovery of the first fossil (1828)
William Henry Sleeman was serving as a captain in the East India Company in 1828 when he came across basaltic formations that were “raised above the Narmada waters” near Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh.
“Reasoning from the analogy at Jubbulpore [Jabalpur] where some of the basaltic cappings of the hills had evidently been thrown out of the craters long after this surface had been raised above the waters, and become the habitation [for] both vegetable and animal life, I made the first discovery of fossil remains in the Nerbudda valley,” Sleeman had written in an account.
This fossil was then sent to London as well as the Indian Museum in Kolkata, and the dinosaur genus was named Titanosaurus by Richard Lydekkar, an English naturalist and geologist, in 1877.
2. The study of dinosaurs in India
Palaeontology took a giant leap in India after the discovery of the first fossil in Madhya Pradesh. Speaking to The Indian Express, veteran geologist Ashok Sahni said that dinosaurs had been studied in the country for more than 175 years and the research took place in three distinct phases. The first phase lasted for about 100 years and ended in 1935. The second phase, he says, was a “quieter” phase lasting just 20 years while the research took an active phase after the 1960s.
The extensive studies have discovered fossils at various sites, and you can visit some of them too! Read here about the seven best places to see fossils in India.
3. Genera of “Indian” dinosaurs
“In India, 25 to 30 genera of dinosaurs are known, depending on how experts wish to club or split the population,” Sahni wrote for the Hindustan Times, adding that “The Indian fossil record of dinosaurs is very good—starting with the small, agile dinosaurs in the Triassic period (a geological period that started 251.9 million years ago and continued till 201.3 million years ago), to the ponderous giants of the Jurassic era (201 million years ago to 145 million years ago) which succeeded it, and the greater diversity in the Cretaceous years (from 145 million years ago to 65 million years ago), when globally all dinosaurs and 65 per cent of all life became extinct.”
4. Some interesting Indian dinos
The Bruhathkayosaurus, Dandakosaurus, Jainosaurus, Kotasaurus, Pradhania, Jaklapallisaurus and Rajasaurus—all roamed in the prehistoric jungles of the Indian subcontinent.
If you find their names peculiar, here are some more interesting facts about them:
a) Approximately the size of the blue whale, the Bruhathkayosaurus, meaning “huge bodied lizard” is considered by many scientists to be the largest dinosaur to have ever lived. Its remains were found in the Tiruchirappalli district in Tamil Nadu.
b) Jubbulpuria, a predator genus was close to 2 feet in height (1 ft 8 inches, to be precise) and 3 ft 11 inches long. The carnivore weighed just a few kilograms.
c) The Zanskar valley in Kashmir housed the most diverse marine animals in the world. With more than 15,000 known species of trilobites (a species of arthropods), the site has become one of the largest mass extinction sites on the Earth!
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Below is the list of all the dinosaur fossils found in modern-day India. Interestingly, India and Madagascar were once connected in the mother continent Pangaea. They were known to share similar dinosaur fauna and flora, which have been found to be quite distinct from those found in other parts of Asia and Africa.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)