Oldest tree fossil discovered in Chhattisgarh

Botanists of Chhattisgarh have discovered the oldest and the largest tree fossil in the country dating back to 250 million years Triassic (geologic) period. It lay scattered over 700 hecatres of land across Shankarpur, Bhattidarh, Thadadpahri, Naginjhiria villages of Surajpur district on the northern fringe of Tamor Pingla Wildlife Sanctuary.

Though the fossils at the first glance appear like large rocks, these are huge tree trunks up to 15 m-long and 8 m-wide. The fossil pieces are so abundant that the villagers in the region have been using them as plinths of their houses or to erect fences.

"It is one of the greatest geo-botanical discoveries of contemporary times," said Krishna Chandra Yadav, director, State Forest Research and Training Institute (SFRTI), Raipur. After Yadav spotted the trunks during a routine visit to Surajpur, he invited scientists from the Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeobotany, Lucknow.

The SFRTI along with Lucknow team explored the site and ascertained the age. It was found that the tree species date back to about 250 million years. Dinosaurs appeared during the Triassic period around 230 million years ago. The fossils belong to lower Gondwana geological formation and are from the species of Gymnosperms. This kind of vegetation used to dominate Earth and was followed by the advent of Angiosperms, the flowering plants that we see today.

According to Yadav, at present the oldest known tree fossil site in the country is Mandla. "The fossil there is 50 million years old and spread in small pieces over 25 hectares. Surajpur fossils should be among the oldest such known fossils on earth. We are ascertaining its position among world's oldest fossils," he said.

Dr R C Mehrotra of Birbal Sahni Institute averred with Yadav and said, "These are probably the thickest and largest tree fossil found anywhere in India." Samples of fossil have been taken to Lucknow for more tests.

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