EXPANDED RANGE. Dinosaurs rules this part of the earth, too, a team of researchers in India discovers.

The Thar Desert today is a scorching region in western India's Rajasthan State. But in the Mesozonic Era, it was a tropical shoreline along the Tethys Ocean, inhabited by dinosaurs and marine creatures.

The latest find from that desert, dated to 167 million years ago, was from a dinosaur group called the dicraeosaurids, whose numbers munched on plants that they reached with long necks [ although not as long as some of their close relatives].

It is the first of that group discovered in India, and the oldest ever found in the world's fossil record.

The all-Indian team that discovered the species named it. Tharosaurus indicus, referring to the Thar Desert, and its country of origin. They described the find in Scientific Reports, and argue that it  underscores the importance of studying fossils from the Indian subcontinent to more broadly understand our planet's prehistory.

Dicraeosaurids like Tharosaurus indicus are part of a larger group called diplodocid sauropods. These dinosaurs are characterised by their elongated bodies and necks.

A dicraeosaured is distinguished by spikes on the back of the neck, and specimens have been unearthed in Africa., the Americas and China. But no such fossils had been documented in India before, said Sunil Bajpal, a vertebrate paleontologist at the. Indian Institute of Technology Roorke and an author of the study.

Early theories suggested that India had been inhabited only by the predecessors of diplodocids. But Dr. Bajpai and other researchers wondered if there were more to the story.

IN 2018, the Geological Survey of India and IIT Roorkee began a collaboration aimed at systematically exploring the excavating fossils near Jaisalmer, a major city in the Thar Desert. Initial finds included new-extinct hybodont sharks and marine bony fish.

Then in 2018, the excavation of dinosaur fossils got underway, yielding the eventual discovery of Tharosaurus indicus. [ Meenakshi J ] 


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