About 15 km from Gadchiroli, near Maharashtra’s border with Andhra Pradesh, half a square kilometre of land has generated immense excitement among scientists.
Named the ‘Wadadham Fossil Park’, this Jurassic period site houses the fossils of flora that existed when sauropods, the giant ‘vegetarian’ dinosaurs, walked this stretch of the Indian subcontinent.
Nearly 60 years after dinosaur fossils were discovered in this Godavari-Pranhita basin, the discovery of fossils of huge trees that the sauropods fed on has given Sironcha the unique distinction of being the only dinosaur site in the Indian subcontinent to have fossils of both flora and fauna from that time.
Forest officer Prabhunath Shukla, who joined the park about one and a half years ago as deputy conservator of forests, was the first to stumble upon the fossils.
“Locals always speak of these fossils and refer to them as ‘rakshas bandi’. So I decided to research them. With my team, I managed to locate a few sites around November-December last year. I then contacted paleobotanist Dashrath Kapgate from Bhandara. Kapgate confirmed that these were fossils of trees that co-existed with dinosaurs in the most important Jurassic period, about 150-200 million years ago,” says Shukla, who holds a a PhD in microbiology.
Kapgate, who has worked with American and Chinese scientists on ‘Deccan Intertrappean Flora’, calls Shukla’s discovery “immensely important”. “It can help us understand not just dinosaur history, but also the whole ecology around them,” Kapgate says.
Kapgate, who has also done research in the area, adds that his findings showed that the area was dominated by Glossopteris and Dadoxylon conifer forests with huge sauropod dinosaurs during the middle Jurassic period (65 to 150 million years ago).
To further understand the interplay between the flora and dinosaurs from the Jurassic period, D M Mohabey, a retired officer of the Geological Survey of India, has joined the team.
What makes the Sironcha-Adilabad site interesting is the fact that it sits on the Deccan trap. According to one of the two main theories about dinosaur extinction, this zone was formed due to a massive volcano that kept spewing lava and poisonous gases for over 8 million years in the Cretaceous period that started after the Jurassic era.
“While one theory is of meteor strike, the other pertains to volcanic Deccan formation. Dinosaurs in India are believed to have become extinct at least 3,50,000 years before the Cretaceous-Paleogene Boundary (K-Pg). A recent study has strongly indicated that the floral change in areas close to the K-Pg Boundary was triggered by the Deccan volcanism,” added Mohabey.