My fossil-hunting adventures

By Janai Kharkongor

Today was a day I had been waiting for all my life. It was during my summer holidays. My father was taking me to caving with a well-known caver, Brian Daly. We were going to Krem Lymput which is a large limestone cave, about six and a half km long. In the morning, my dad and I went to Mr Brian’s house. We met him and talked to him for some time. Then his nephew came and we got into his car and started our journey. We stopped for breakfast and tea in a jadoh stall in Pynursla and then continued on our way to Nongri village.
After about an hour, we reached the cave. We met Bashisha Iangrai, a senior geologist and paleontologist in the Geological Survey of India, Shillong. She is a seasoned caver and was on an exploration to collect samples. Mr Brian gave us cave suits and head lamps. I was very excited about what we were going to do. We walked for about one kilometer in a humid forest until some cool breeze started blowing in our face. It was the entrance of the cave. We switched on our head lamps and entered the pitch-dark cave. As soon as we entered, we saw curtains of stalactites and stalagmites. They were beautiful. There was water inside the cave. In the monsoon, this cave will be flooded. We walked around and we found fossils.
This place was rich in invertebrate sea fossils. They were everywhere — on the ceiling, on the floors and on the walls. It was truly an amazing sight. Ms Bashisha identified most of these to be nummulites and some discocyclina, which are coin-shaped and sized. They are small, shelled sea creatures from the Eocene Period, 56 to 34 million years ago. She had a pick hammer, so we managed to get a few samples.
We walked through the passages for some time until I saw a seam that was about 6 feet long and a foot thick at my head height that was littered with fossil shells. Ms Bashisha identified this to be a coquina which she explained to be a sedimentary rock that is composed of the shells of molluscs. We took a few samples of those but they were fragile and broke easily in my hand. It was an interesting day. I enjoyed it and I had finally fulfilled my dream of finding my own fossils.
I was always fascinated by fossils and pre-historic life. The next weekend we went to a place for a family picnic near Mawlyngbna. When we reached, we had to walk through a forest. There was a river that had to be crossed. I walked through it but my dad jumped on the rocks to cross the river. Then we walked for about 15 minutes. We looked at the rocky ground and saw these little shell-like structures that were embedded in the rock. I immediately recognized them to be sea urchins. There were tens of them studded in the rock surfaces. Sea urchins are water animals so this place was evidently an ocean at one time which has now been thrust to the surface by upward movement of the earth’s plates.
Sea urchins are spiny, globular animals that live on the seabed, inhabiting all oceans. They are widely distributed across all the oceans and inhabit the sea bed. They date back to 450 million years ago. Urchins typically range in size from 3 to 10 cm and have a rigid, usually spherical body with a five pointed star design. Because of this design, they often get confused for starfish.
After studying them and taking a few pictures, I wanted to take a few samples. But these were in solid rock and I needed tools to take them out. I decided to come back the next day with my dad. And this time we would take a hammer and chisel.
I woke up early in the morning the next day and packed my bag. I took the hammer and chisel to help me take a few sample fossils. The drive was about two and a half hours from the city. When we reached the place, I took out my tools and proceeded to take a few samples. I studied them some more time and then decided to go back to the car.
We spent half a day at the place. While walking back, I saw something that everybody thought was “just a rock”, but it was actually a fossilised tree trunk! I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had seen petrified wood before in museums, but I had never seen one this big. And I found it! On the way back to the car, I saw some more rocks that had oysters and small snail fossils. These rocks are being used to make the road. When I reached home, I was very disturbed with the fact that nobody cared about these treasures. These little things can tell us so much about our past and I would like to save them. And I hope you will join me.

(The author is a student of Class VIII at Saandeepani Academy for Excellence,
Bengaluru)

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