Koyal Info Group Mag: 50 Years of Fossil Discoveries and Counting

PUNE: From reporting important findings on parental care among Arthropods to establishing the antiquity of metazoans (multi cell organisms), the Department of Geology and Palaeontology at the city-based Agharkar Research Institute (ARI) has come a long way in emerging as a leader in the study of trace fossils in the country.

The department, whose golden jubilee celebrations begin on Friday, has made landmark contributions in the study of fossils in the past 50 years. For future research, the department aims to focus on studying the secondary porosity of rocks for exploring hydrocarbon resources as well as in establishing modern analogues to their fossil counterparts.

The department was established in ARI in 1964 by Gangadhar Chiplonkar, who earlier headed the Geology Department at the Hari Singh Gaur University in Madhya Pradesh. The department's first research was conducted on the Bagh Beds in Madhya Pradesh.

From Bagh Beds it extended its research to other Cretaceous sedimentary rocks of the Peninsula, viz., Wadhwan Formation of Kathiawar in Gujarat, and those occurring in South India. The Wadhwan Formation, till then known to be consisting of freshwater rocks, was not only proved to be marine, but also the westerly extension of the Bagh Beds.

The tracks, trails, burrows and borings made by ancient organisms and preserved in rocks are called 'trace fossils'. This study conducted at Bagh Beds opened a new chapter in the Indian context and it was the first ever of its kind in India. The study of trace fossils began in 1969-70 and today, the department is known the world over for some of its landmark findings.

Kantimati Kulkarni, senior scientist at the Department of Geology, said, "The Miocene fossils from Kutch have affinities with those from the Malaya Archipelago. This conclusion was established through the study of the Tertiary molluscs of Kutch and Kathiawar."

Vidyadhar Borkar, retired scientist from the department of Geology at ARI, said, "Besides trace fossils, the department are also known for its work on invertebrate fossils, ammonoids, bivalves and gastropods among others."

The present focus is on invertebrates and trace fossils from the marine Tertiary rock formations of Kutch and the Jurassic of Jaisalmer district. Studies on present day traces and microfossils, including foraminifera have been initiated to understand environmental impact of the anthropogenic influence on the west coast of Maharashtra.

Rajani Panchang-Dhumal, a project scientist at the department, said, "The Geology and Palaeontology department at ARI hosts a large fossil repository with over 7,000 type specimens in its collection. This repository is consulted regularly, both by research scholars as well as scientists from India and abroad. This national facility is now undergoing modernization and will soon be available on the web." [Visit Koyal Info Group Mag - Blog]

Dhananjay Mohabey, retired deputy director general of Geological Survey of India, will give a lecture at 3 pm on Friday. The topic is 'Late Cretaceous Dinosaurs in India: Diversity, Habitat and Extinction'. Besides, the department will take citizens on a field trip to the nearest coast from Pune to give insights of the coast fossils.

Why study fossils?

After a living organism died, it became buried under the ground in the layers of sediment. Once these layers become rock, the remains are said to be fossilized. They tell us about the organisms that lived on Earth from the time of the oldest fossils, about 3.8 billion years ago, to the present. By studying fossils we can learn not only about the creatures and plants of the distant past, but how they grew, what they ate, how they interacted, and many aspects of their behavior.

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