‘Century-old Indian dinosaur fossils yet to be recovered, restored’

Kolkata: A section of fossil records of Indian dinosaurs, described by British geologist Charles Matley in the early 20th century, are yet to be traced and some, which are housed in the Indian Museum here, have not even been restored, an expert said.

“Some of the collections which he (Matley) claimed were restored back to India are missing over the last 100 years. Some of the specimens are in a bad shape and improperly stored. The challenge is to describe the collected material and restore it.

“It is a big challenge to restore them as they are extremely fragile,” veteran palaeontologist D.M. Mohabey said at a national workshop on applications of palaeontology in archaeology at the museum on Wednesday.

“Restore the specimens which are misplaced. Some of the specimens packed in 1932 have not been opened yet. They are in writings of Matley,” he demanded.

Narrating the history of excavations of dinosaur fossils in India, Mohabey, a former Joint Director General of the Geological Survey of India (GSI), said the period 1917-33 was the first golden age of research on Indian dinosaurs when Matley carried out excavations in two expeditions (1917-1921 and 1932-1933) in the lameta sediments at Jabalpur (in now Madhya Pradesh) and at Pisdura (now Maharashtra).

Matley’s collections were subsequently distributed in three museums across the world: British Museum of Natural History (BMNH) (now the Natural History Museum), London, the American Museum of Natural History, New York (AMNH) and Indian Museum.

A major chunk of the excavated bones were shipped to the British and American museums for preparation and description, and subsequently returned to India and presently housed in Indian Museum and GSI, Kolkata, said Mohabey, adding the foreign museums still house critical specimens from the collection.

“But at the same time a section of the specimens that he had collected were never taken to Britain.

“They lie here only, in the galleries of the Indian Museum which the GSI maintains. Many are in the same stage in which he had excavated and packed… they are still like that. Some of the collections were never opened,” he said.

The GSI and the University of Michigan have recently embarked on a programme to recover missing fossil bones in museum collections and to collect new bones from field sites.

Efforts at the Indian Museum and GSI repositories have resulted in the recovery of the misplaced holotypic (a single specimen used as basis for original description of species) caudal vertebra of India’s first dinosaur, Titanosaurus indicus.