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Fossil discovery: Expert cautious

india Updated: Feb 09, 2007 16:12 IST
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RENOWNED PALAEONTOLOGIST Dr Andrew B Smith has suggested reserving judgement on the provenance of the fossils discovered at Kukshi-Bagh until scientific tests proved that they indeed were dinosaur eggs dating back to the Cretaceous era.

“It’s impossible to make an informed comment as I haven’t seen the fossils,” said Dr Smith when queried about his take on the discovery. “However, three of my colleagues are experts on dinosaur fossils and I’m sure they’d be glad to offer their assistance if called upon to do so,” said the Museum of Natural History (MNH), London, expert on marine fossils, particularly sea urchins.

Smith made these remarks on the sidelines of a lecture on sea urchin fossils at Indian Institute of Professional Studies, DAVV, on Thursday after a six-day tour studying fossilised marine remains in Bagh where, incidentally, he spent his 53rd birthday.

“It provides a window into marine life around 85 million years ago after tectonic movement led to Madagascar and the Indian sub-continent breaking away from the African landmass,” said Dr Smith of his trip to the Bagh beds.

“When continents break,’’ he explained, “there are rifts and one of these was at Narmada Valley where the sea rushed in.”

The fossils at Bagh reveal important details about marine conditions. For instance, we know that the water was shallow, warm and a tropical climate existed at the site,’’ said the palaeontologist who has published numerous papers on starfish and sea urchins and earlier served as the Editor-in-Chief of the MNH journal.

Earlier, Dr Smith, who did a stint as a lecturer at Jabalpur University, delivered a fascinating lecture on sea urchins a form of marine life dating back over 400 million years with habitats as diverse as Antarctica to the Indian Ocean. “Around 180 million years ago a few species moved underwater partially to exploit new food sources.”

Dwelling at length on their physiognomy, the scientist revealed that living sea animals have tubular extensions with which they feed, move and breathe on the outside and soft tissue and muscle on the inside. “In fossils, however, the soft tissue and muscle is lost and only the internal skeleton, composed of calcite plates remains,” he said.

However, the number, size and shape of tubular extensions can be recognised in the fossils as sequences of pores in specific configurations. “The pores, and the shape of the plates of the shell, help identify the different species which, in turn, yields clues about climactic and other conditions”. In other words, a kind of reverse bioengineering.

The lecture was attended by physicist Dr A K Datta, Dr Ashok Sharma, Dr Vipul Sharma and former Rector Dr Sudhakar Bharti.

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