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The oldest plant-eating Dinosaur found in India


The Thar Desert today is a scorching region in western India’s Rajasthan state. But in the Mesozoic 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, which munched on plant life 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 diplodocoid sauropods. These dinosaurs are characterized by their elongated bodies and necks. The dicraeosaurids are distinguished by spikes on the back of their necks and have been unearthed in Africa, the Americas and China. But no such fossils had been documented in India before, said Sunil Bajpai, a vertebrate paleontologist at the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee and an author of the study. Earlier theories suggested that India was inhabited only by the predecessors of diplodocoids.

Bajpai and other researchers wondered if there was more to the story. In 2018, the Geological Survey of India and IIT Roorkee began a collaboration aimed at systematically exploring and excavating fossils near Jaisalmer, a major city in the Thar Desert. Initial finds included now-extinct hybodont sharks and marine bony fish. Then in 2019, the excavation of dinosaur fossils got underway, yielding the eventual discovery of Tharosaurus indicus.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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