Pranay Lal: India has not marketed or preserved its discoveries on dinosaurs
The first Indian dinosaur, Titanosaur, was discovered in 1828, but it took almost 50 years for it to be given a name. “The word dinosaur was coined 12 years after remains of Titanosaurus was discovered in India,” revealed biochemist Pranay Lal during a session at the Jaipur Literature Festival.
Tyrannosaurus Rex is probably the first name that would pop in your head when asked to name dinosaurs. But did you know that dinosaurs much more fierce and larger in size than the ones found in North America once roamed the Indian subcontinent?
Such and more exciting stories of lesser known geological finds formed the subject of a session on biochemist Pranay Lal’s new book on the evolution of the Indian subcontinent, Indica. At a session at the Baithak venue at Diggi Palace, the author was in conversation with naturalist Pradip Krishen and British palaeontologist Richard Fortey.
Lal said the first Indian dinosaur, Titanosaur, was discovered in 1828, but it took almost 50 years for it to be given a name. “The word dinosaur was coined 12 years after remains of Titanosaurus was discovered in India.”
Fortey said while Hollywood and US museums had done a remarkable job to catalogue, display and market their dinosaurs, very little is known about the discoveries and expeditions that were made in India. The story of the work of geologists was supplemented by images of dinosaur footprints, egg prints and reconstructed images of their appearance and size on two large screens adjacent to the stage.
A lightweight but ferocious predator Rajasaurus was another home-bred ancient creature that was reclaimed from oblivion at the session. But the largest find, quite literally, was the 48 metre long Bruhathkayosaurus, which was discovered in 1989 but the find was published much later. When scientists unearthed its huge bones at Tiruchirappalli in Tamil Nadu, they did not have the wherewithall to carry them to the labs. The group took pictures and left to come back again after the rains. However, the bones could not be found again. This lack of concrete evidence prevented the gigantic creature to be recognised the largest dinosaur that ever lived.
Commenting on the field of geology in the country, Lal said there are no museums, repositories to preserve what is discovered during fieldwork due to which the material gets displaced. “If you want to see these discoveries made in India and Pakistan, you have to travel to a collector’s place in Ohio,” said Lal. “Geologists have a large collection of such fossils but they can’t leave them at the department because there is no cataloguing and they can’t take them with them. There is a joke that if you want to see fossils in India, don’t go to the field but outside the geology department.”
The much-speculated cause of extinction of dinosaurs was also discussed by the panel, with Lal explaining that their decline could have happened long before the meteorite hit and during the lave floods that inundated the continents. Stressing on the need to include geologists on discussions on conservation and education about environment, Lal said we need to start looking at our syllabi more wholistically. “We should encourage our kids to ask questions and connect it to other disciplines.”
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