20-million-year old fossilised tree saved from destruction in Himachal

Kumarhatti (Himachal Pradesh): A 20-million-year old fossilised tree, discovered on the outskirts of Himachal Pradesh's Kumarhatti town, was saved from destruction, a geologist said on Sunday.

The tree fossil discovered in 2013 was about to be dstrtoyed last week during the construction of a four-lane Parwanoo-Shimla highway at Raboon village, some 50 km from Chandigarh, Geologist-entrepreneur Ritesh Arya told IANS.

He said numerous flora and fauna fossils have been discovered in Kasauli, Barog, Kumarhatti, Dharampur and Subathu areas, located in the Shivaliks, in Solan district.

The entire area, he said, should be preserved by declaring it as geo-fossil forest for in-site conservation, meaning the conservation of an archaeological asset in its original location.

Arya claimed that the discovered fossils dated back to paleoflooding that was related to global warming and glacial melt, resulting in floods.

The flooding uprooted trees and buried them under sand along the river channels, leading to petrification -- a process of fossilisation in which dissolved minerals replace organic matter.

The saved fossil tree is 12 feet tall and one metre wide.

"It's believed that the fossil might be more than 100 feet tall," Arya, who holds a Guinness Book of World Record for discovering groundwater at an altitude of 11,000 ft in Ladakh, added.

He said this was the second fossilised tree in the region that was saved from destruction.

Earlier, a 25-million year-old fossil of a five-foot-tall and three-foot-wide tree was discovered a few years ago at Jagjitnagar near Kasauli. The fossil, which was standing on a rock, was conserved as the land where it was located was a private land and the owner took initiative to preserve it.

Arya said the Kasauli hills are geologically related to 16 to 23 million years and have been associated with Irish geologist Henry Benedict Medlicott, who discovered the first fossilised preserved leaves in 1864.

Kasauli was once inhabited by a large number of apes, tigers, elephants, hippos, giraffes, crocodiles and land tortoises.

According to Arya, the discovery of fossils in the Kasauli region indicated that the area supported flora and fauna that was native to coastal regions of Malaysia, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Indonesia.

"This clearly indicated that Himalayan region was under the ocean," the geologist said.

Arya, who studied at Panjab University's department of geology, said the presence of fossils of Garcinia and Gluta and other near coastal species show that the Himalayas had not evolved during those times and were younger than 20 million years.

Declaring Kasauli and its nearby hills to be geo-heritage site, he said this would boost tourism and help improving the knowledge of the evolution of the Himalayas.

The geologist said staff of construction company G.R. Infra Ltd. engaged in the construction of the Parwanoo-Shimla highway also cooperated to save the fossil by shifting the road alignment.

Sensing potential to attract tourists and researchers from across the globe, the state government in 2011 started setting up a geo heritage park in Kasauli town, some 50 km from the state capital Shimla.

For this, the state tourism department has tied up with the Chandigarh Natural History Museum.

The museum, which is likely to be completed in the next three-four years, would display models of extinct animals like the grand elephant Stegodon Ganesha Sivatherium, a hippopotamus with six incisors and the giant land tortoise Colossochelys Atlas.

The Kasauli park would be the second fossil park in the state.

The Suketi Fossil Park near Nahan town in Sirmaur district displays six life-size fiberglass models of pre-historic animals whose fossils and skeletons were unearthed at the site.

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