12 Feb : From having a proper infrastructure to the ease of availability of information to a cohesive set of regulations for the preservation and collection of dinosaur fossils ‘need some probing’ at Balasinor in Gujarat, the third largest dinosaur fossil site in the world …writes Nidhi Kalra.
Far from the manning crowds, in a small village called Raioli near Balasinor, is the third largest dinosaur fossil site in the world. Located 86 kms away from Ahmedabad in Gujarat this site is spread across 13 acres of land.
The Balasinor Dinosaur Fossil Park was first discovered in 1981 by the Geological Survey of India (GSI). A year later approximately 1000 dinosaur eggs were discovered making this place one of the biggest hatcheries in the world.
It is widely believed that this place used to be a part of the Shiva crater that was formed millions of years ago by a meteor. Scientists even believe that this place was destroyed by a meteorite and subsequently by volcanoes.
The Balasinor Dinosaur Park has been home to 7 different types of dinosaurs namely Megalosaurus, Iquanodon, Titanosaurus, Tricerotops, Tyrannosaurus and Brontosaurus. The dinosaur fossils found here are divided into two orders based on their hip structure. They are : Saurischia and Ornithiscia. The first dinosaur fossil was in form of a limb-bone in ‘Intrappean-Laneta’ sediments Raioli discovered by the paleontologists of Geological Survey of India in 1981. The latest discovery has been Rajasauruas-narmdensis. The uniqueness of this species of dinosaur is a subtle horn on its head.
The discoverers, Mr. Paul Sereno and his assistant Mr. Jeff Wilson from Michigan University in the United States had said on an earlier occasion that Rajasaurus-narmdensis, up to now, was an undiscovered species.
Role of the Government
In 1997 Gujarat Government invited a group of 50 paleontologists to explore the fossil site. Ever since a large number of paleontologists have flown in from different parts of the world to study the diverse variety of dinosaur fossils found here. The same year, Central Government of India provided funds for containment and fencing, and ever since it has been a protected site.
Funded by the Gujarat Govt and the Centre for an estimated 4.25 crores,the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Ltd has initiated a dinosaur museum cum interpretation centre near the fossil site.The project started in February, 2006 is yet to see the light of the day.
This project is a very tiny part of the development plan laid out by the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat. The original plan estimates a total of 119.42 crores worth of investment in this project. According to the plan, the project will be carried out in 4 phases and the money will be sanctioned as and when the phases are carried out.
According to the proposed plan certain objectives need to be achieved such as a world class infrastructure and a conservation of the area. The question is how fast these objectives will be worked upon and how quickly will the entire project sees the light of the day? Although building of the interpretation centre has been going on since two years, the site is still under construction. The authorities estimate another 6 months worth of time to go into it before it is ready.
Also more excavation is to be carried out. This task apart from being time-consuming also requires money and a lot of expertise as remains of these fossils can be ruined if not extracted carefully. The interpretation centre will contain the fossils that were excavated by GSI.
Before the place even begins to attract tourists it needs to be conserved. According to Aaliya Babi, the princess of Balasinor, the foremost concern is the protection of the site. "Cattle herds are a big problem. I have literally shooed them away. They were standing right on top of the rock which contained fossils.", she says.
Her contribution is not just limited to protection of this site. She has also personally trained some 25 people with the objective of making them guides who can play hosts to the tourists during visits.
Babi’s concern and plea for the preservation of the site and her active involvement in the same is a reminder to those who are officially in charge of looking after that place.
With such a vast open landscape and only two ill-informed caretakers, the chances of the fossils getting jeopardized or lost are quiet high. Each remnant provides connecting information about dinosaurs such as their diet, the reasons why they died and how fast they moved. The loss of a single piece means its permanent disappearance, the effect of which can only be gauged in terms of the information that goes missing along with them.
As much as the place holds a commercial value, there is also a grave danger to the dinosaur remains as there are chances of them being gathered and sold owing to their high monetary value. A rare national treasure like this needs more protection than just fencing. Otherwise, just like several dinosaur fossils which have been excavated from this site, others will also be moved to museums in other parts of India.
So much as to the uniqueness and the potential the place has, there is a need to promote it in a more elaborate manner. With unimaginable varieties of fossils available, this place requires more than just word-of-mouth advertising.
Having the potential to become an international tourist attraction, the authorities need to put their skates on and implement their grand plan. There is a need for proper information on the internet as well as on the fossil site.
An archaeological wonder, this place has immense potential to attract tourists and archaeologists from the world over, giving India yet another ‘unusual’ reason to be on the world map.
Perhaps, a great amount of work needs to be done even before one can start thinking of it as an international dinosaur fossil park. Anticipating a meaningful outcome from the steps taken by the government a few years ago, one can only hope to see a proper dinosaur fossil park someday soon.