Why India’s Fossil Wealth Remained Hidden

Colonial footprints

Some places like North America have a well-established reputation as fossil hotspots, often due to rich dinosaur finds that have been widely popularized through museum exhibits, literary works, movies, and more recently the internet. explains Amelia Bonea, historian of contemporary India. and researcher at the Heidelberg Center for Transcultural Studies, University of Heidelberg, Germany.

“In contrast, fossil localities in other parts of the world have not always enjoyed the same degree of visibility, despite their scientific importance,” says Bonea. In India’s case, there are two main reasons for the neglect, she thinks.

On the one hand, Bonea blames the colonial past.

For example, it was common to ship groundbreaking discoveries to Europe or North America, where they would be studied there and benefit Western science, rather than the local population. A recent study found that even in the past 30 years, 97% of fossil finds in a major database were added by authors based primarily in high- or upper-middle-income countries.

And the second, says Bonea, is the failure of the postcolonial state to recognize the value of its fossil heritage, the public relevance of the scientific disciplines that study it, and its failure to support their development.

“It’s an ironic development, given that India is home to a research institution – the Birbal Sahni Institute of Paleosciences, Lucknow – that is rather unique,” says Bonea. “At the time of its establishment, in 1946, it was one of only two institutions in the world dedicated specifically to the study of paleobotany, the other similar institute being the Palynological Laboratories at Pennsylvania State University “, she says.

Even before the word dinosaur was coined, we know the first fossils were recorded in the UK in 1824 – Megalosaurus was found in Oxfordshire and dated back to the Middle Jurassic period (about 174 to 164 million years ago). However, a lesser known fact is that the discovery of the first dinosaur bones in India came on the heels.

In 1828, just four years later, WH Sleeman discovered the first two fossils of what was to be called the Titanosaur indicus (meaning “Titanic Indian lizard”) at Jabalpur Central India. They passed through many hands, until a Brit sent them to England along with thousands of other fossils which were stored in chests and loaded onto ships.