Gujarat’s Dinosaur Park

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    Around 90 km from Ahmedabad, in Gujarat, you will come across a small village in the former princely state of Balasinor that is a big draw. In the village of Rahioli, in an area spanning 72 acres of hills and flatlands is a vast expanse of dinosaur fossils dating to at least the Upper Cretaceous period (Maastrichtian) about 77.1 - 66 million years ago. There is a lot here and today Rahioli is well known across the world, as one of the largest dinosaur hatcheries in the world.

    The site was discovered in 1981 when the Geological Survey of India (GSI) was doing a regular survey on the sedimentary rock formations in the region. A routine survey threw open an amazing find. The GSI chanced upon the numerous dinosaur fossils and bones. The discovery of this massive fossil park here has led palaeontologists from all over the world to come and research in Rahioli. The site has a lot of fossilised dinosaur bones, footprints of the animals who roamed this land millions of years ago.

    What is most spectacular here, however, is a vast dinosaur hatchery. A network of complete nests with eggs that have been preserved in stone. Of the finds, this discovery of thousands of fossilized dinosaur eggs has been the most significant.

    Most of the fossilized eggs are grey in colour and stick out of the fossil rich sediments of the Lameta sedimentary layer along the Narmada River. This layer of sediment is most commonly associated with the Cretaceous period around 77 million years ago and preserves fossils from the Upper Cretaceous period in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. However, among the sites of the period across the region, Rahioli is a stand-out because it was the largest breeding ground for dinosaurs in the Indian Subcontinent. The author of Indica - A Deep Natural History of the Indian Subcontinent, Pranay Lal describes it well:

    "Many nests are clustered together here in close proximity, suggesting that there were communal breeding grounds. The nests were made in hollows in mud or sand and were lined with vegetation. In each nest, the eggs were laid or arranged in a neat pattern so they would not roll around or bump into each other."

    A good way to understand the antiquity of this park is to compare it with when man first walked on Earth. While the fossilised eggs are at least 66 million years ago, the first species of human walked on earth only around 2 million years ago.

    The dinosaur eggs found in Rahioli are of different sizes and range from the size of muskmelons to small pebbles. Palaeontologists attribute the larger spherical eggs to a sub-division of Sauropods (herbivore, quadruped dinosaurs with long legs and web-shaped feet) while the more elongated or oval eggs are said to be those of the Theropods (carnivorous and herbivorous species, with short front limbs).

    Along with the fossilized eggs, fossilized bones of thirteen species have been found here. These dinosaurs probably lived here for 100 million years until their extinction some 66 million years ago. Among the species of Theropods, there is one distinctive species that was found here and in fact sports the name of the site! Named the Rahiolisaurus Gujaratensis, it has put this village of Rahioli, on the global map for palaeontologists and natural history lovers. This dinosaur would have been eight meters long. Interestingly a minimum of seven Rahiolisaurus were buried together leading experts to conclude that they moved in groups.

    Another Indian entry to the world of dinosaurs is the Indian carnivore species of Tyrannosaurus Rex, whose bones were excavated from the site and was aptly named Rajasaurus Namadensis or literally the king lizard of the Narmada, by palaeontologists. From the size of its skull, palaeontologists estimate that this predator was about 10 metres in length and had a robust build and a very strong skull and neck.

    Rajasaurus is thought to be closely related to Majungatholus, a dinosaur from Madagascar because their skulls and teeth were similarly shaped and their general appearance probably matched. This occurrence is because Madagascar was still joined at the hip with India at that point.

    Over the past few decades, scientists have debated over what led to the extinction of dinosaurs. On the basis of the earlier theory, it was believed that it was the massive asteroid about 10-15 km in diameter that crashed near present-day Yucatan in the Gulf of Mexico. The impact of the collision was so massive that it created climatic disruption worldwide approximately 66 million years ago, and was the cause of the mass extinction in which 80% of plant and animal species including dinosaurs became extinct. But recently, in a paper published in Geological Survey of America in 2015, Prof Mark Richards of the University of California Berkeley, infers that an asteroid that collided into the ocean of Mexico 66 million years ago, triggered the volcanic eruption in the western region of India and an immense amount of lava was produced. This lava which is today known as Deccan Trap covers an area of 500,000 sq. km. The research conducted by Mark Richards suggests that the extinction of dinosaurs may have been caused by a combination of this volcano and the asteroid impact.

    Gujarat is considered to be home to one of the largest collection of dinosaur remains in India. The dinosaurs are believed to have flourished till about 65 million years ago after which the meteor strike and overflowing volcanoes are said to have destroyed these animals.

    Apart from Rahioli, the other major sites where palaeontologists have found fossils of dinosaurs are along the river Narmada in Lodhai village in Gujarat, Dhar district in Madhya Pradesh and Waddam in Maharashtra. You can find some of the fossils and skeletal remains from the Rahioli at the Indroda Natural Park in Gandhinagar and at the Indian Museum in Kolkata.

    Despite the fact that so many fossils are yet to be classified, sites like this provide valuable information about what the Earth looked like so many million years ago.

    Rahioli is an important link to the Indian Subcontinent’s spectacular past!

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