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How cavers chanced upon a history unravelling find

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Fossil discovery at Tolegre

TURA, May 14: The recent discovery of a possible 35-40 million fossil in the village of Gongdap Kol, Tolegre, South Garo Hills, has set the entire state, country and the world abuzz with the possibilities that it has thrown up.
While the team from the Geological Survey of India (GSI) is yet to get on ground to verify the findings of the CGE team, early indications are very encouraging and could pave the way for more such forays into the various subterranean regions of the district, something that is plentiful in and around the area.
How exactly did the CGE team come across this gargantuan find?
Here is what the team has to say.
A team of Core Geo Expeditions, a non-profit research organisation consisting of local and international cavers and speleologists, explored the caves in the Tolegre area between March 5 and 22. The team explored a total of close to 12 kms of terrain and about 40 caves during the three weeks they were there in the village.
Tolegre is about 10 kms from the picturesque village of Siju – famous for its caves and tourism hotspots.
The international team was led by Ayush Singh (Mumbai, Maharashtra, India), Thomas Arbenz (Switzerland) and Eric Momin (Tura, Meghalaya, India) and consisted of cavers from Meghalaya, Switzerland, United Kingdom and Romania. It also included biologists from India and Switzerland who helped in documenting the species of bats living in the area.
The team informed through a press note that the results of the expedition will be documented in a detailed report later this year.
On March 14, a team consisting of Dr Tudor L Tămaș (Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania), Milton M. Sangma and Salban M. Sangma (both from Baghmara, SGH) were surveying Gongdap Kol, a temporary sinkhole with a large entrance on a bedding plane, situated close to a dry meander of the Chibe River.
“The limestones in this cave belong to the Siju formation, consisting of banded alternations of arenaceous, foraminiferal limestones with pyrite, carbonaceous shales, and marls. The age of the limestones in the Siju Formation is considered Middle Eocene (late Lutetian – early Bartonian, approximately 38 to 43 million years ago),” added the communiqué.
After a serious amount of crawling through low passages, the survey was concluded at 251 m for Gongdap Kol, the second cave of the day and the team was returning from the end of a lateral passage.
When sliding sideways to reach the passage junction, they noticed a large fossil jaw (22 cm visible) with three large black fangs (between 3.7 – 8 cm) exposed in the limestone at the base of the passage wall.
A fourth tooth was loose and had its root exposed was also seen. It measured 4.8 cm with the root.
In a transversal view of the section exposed through erosion/dissolution by the cave water, the two exposed jawbones measured 7 cm x 3.9 cm (the one containing the teeth) and 5.6 cm x 4.2 cm (the one situated behind).
Since the team had just the survey kit with them, they crawled back to the entrance to pick up their cameras and phones before returning back to the fossil site and documented the discovery with scaled photos and 3D-Scans.
“Later on (in the expedition) based on the pictures we took, the fossil, located just under a nummulitic level in the limestone, was suggested to be a whale ancestor – Archaeoceti – possibly Ambulocetus or Rodhocetus by Dr. Lionel Cavin from the Museum of Natural History in Geneva (Switzerland). Based on the age of the limestones, it may also belong to a more recent (circa 40 million years), Bartonian genus.
Archaeoceti fossils have been studied from other parts of India and Pakistan, notably Remingtonocetus and Babiacetus from Gujarat or Himalayacetus from Himachal Pradesh, but if closer analyses of the “Tolegre Fossil” proves the assumed genus, it will be the first of its kind in India – something that has kept everyone buzzing.
Two other visits to the site were made in the last days of the expedition (Mar 20 and 21) for additional measurements and to get high-resolution video footage and photos. Once the importance of the discovery was established, the authorities were duly informed.
Thanking their hosts in the district of SGH, the CGE team called the district a treasure trove of knowledge.
“Such an exploration initiative would not have been possible without the support of the District Administration, the Nokma, our lovely hosts, the Tolegre U.P. School, the guides, all the lovely people of Tolegre, Nokatgre and the neighbouring regions and our friends at MAA,” stated the communiqué by the CGE.
The CGE team has informed its findings to the district administration of SGH after which a palaeontologist from GSI paid a visit though the main team is yet to arrive to verify and date the findings. However in an effort to preserve the site from destruction from piqued interests of people following information of the discovery, the administration has set up a temporary stop to any further exploration in the area.

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