Friday, January 18, 2013

A Date With Fossils


I chanced upon a little-known place during a visit to Pondicherry recently. The National Fossil Wood Park at Thiruvakkarai in Tamil Nadu is located just 20 kilometers from Pondicherry. It was clear that the park is not frequented by too many people. We had to stop a couple of times to ask some locals for directions before we finally made it there. A small blue board bears the name of the park. The park is small too. Actually, the fossils are scattered over 247 acres, but only a small portion is accessible to visitors. Strewn across the park are wood fossils of various shapes and sizes.They range between three and 15 meters in length and up to five meters in girth. And what is amazing is that these fossils are some 20 million years old!


They look as if they were dried trunks of trees, woody and complete with concentric rings. But you are in for a surprise when you touch them. They feel exactly like stone. Once upon a time, they had been trees. They turned into rock when their organic material got replaced with silica. This process of petrification usually takes place underground, when the wood gets buried under sediment. Lack of oxygen prevents it from getting decomposed. Now, if mineral-rich water flowing through the sediment deposits minerals in the plant's cells, the plant tissue turns into stone gradually. And so here they are...relics from the past...rarest of rare links connecting us with something that existed on this earth several millenniums ago. This unique baggage of history makes the fossils truly special.


Scientists' view is that these trees did not originally grow here. They were transported to this location before their petrification. According to folklore, they are the broken bones of a demon who was defeated by Lord Vishnu in a combat. Whether one believes this or not, what strikes one is the general feeling of apathy towards this park. It comes under the Geological Survey of India and it would be ideal if they could maintain and promote it for tourists as well as students. A trip to the park could be an interesting and educational excursion, if it is made more visible amongst the well-known sites in this area.


Other prominent fossil wood parks in India are: Akal Fossil Wood Park in Jaisalmer and National Fossil Wood Park, Sattanur, also in Tamil Nadu.


That was just a parting shot taken before leaving the park.