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Oldest Plant-Eating Dinosaur Fossils Discovered in Rajasthan

India’s Rich Dinosaur Heritage Unearthed

In a groundbreaking discovery, scientists from IIT Roorkee, in collaboration with the Geological Survey of India, have identified and characterized dinosaur fossils dating back to the Middle Jurassic period. These fossils were found in the Thar desert near the Jaisalmer Basin, Rajasthan, shedding light on a previously enigmatic period in India’s paleontological history. This article delves into the significance of this discovery and its implications for our understanding of dinosaur evolution.

Unearthing Ancient Treasures

Dinosaur Fossils
Fossils associated with the backbone of Tharosaurus indicus. | Source The Hindu Photo Credit: Pragya Pandey

The fossils discovered in the Thar desert belong to a sauropod dinosaur, a group characterized by their long necks and herbivorous diet. What makes these fossils truly remarkable is their age; they are approximately 167 million years old, making them the oldest known diplodocoid fossils globally. The scientists have named this dinosaur “Tharosaurus indicus” in reference to its Indian origin and its discovery in the Thar desert. Triparna Ghosh, Pragya Pandey, and Krishna Kumar from the Geological Survey of India made this significant find.

Size Matters

Sauropods, known for their colossal size, could grow to lengths exceeding a hundred feet. However, the sauropods in the Dicraeosauridae family, which Tharosaurus belongs to, were unique in their smaller size, shorter necks, and tails compared to their counterparts. This diversity in sauropod characteristics adds an intriguing dimension to the evolutionary history of these giants.

The Middle Jurassic Mystery

India’s paleontological record has puzzled scientists due to the scarcity of sauropod fossils from the Middle Jurassic period, which spanned approximately 160-180 million years ago. While Early Jurassic and Late Cretaceous sauropod fossils have been discovered in India, the Middle Jurassic has remained an enigma. This scarcity can be attributed to various factors, including limited exposed rock formations from that era.

India: A Cradle of Sauropod Evolution

During the Middle Jurassic period, India was part of the supercontinent Gondwanaland, along with Africa, South America, Madagascar, and Antarctica. This geographical arrangement, coupled with the presence of primitive sauropods like Kotasaurus and Barapasaurus in India, suggests that India played a pivotal role in the early radiation of diplodocoid sauropods. It is plausible that these sauropods originated in India and later migrated to other parts of the world via land connections.

A palaeogeographic distribution of diplodocoids with taxa of different ages plotted together in a simplified Middle Jurassic (170 Ma) map to show their spatio-temporal distribution across Pangea. Silhouettes indicate the type of diplodocoid and fossil occurrences. Numbers adjoining sauropod silhouettes indicate age of the fossils as follows: 1—Middle Jurassic (early–middle Bathonian); 2—Late Jurassic; 3—Cretaceous; 4—Middle Jurassic. | Photo Credit: Bajpai, S., Datta, D., Pandey, P. et al. Fossils of the oldest diplodocoid dinosaur suggest India was a major centre for neosauropod radiation. Sci Rep13, 12680 (2023).

Connecting the Dots

The fact that diplodocoid sauropod fossils in other continents are from a younger geological interval strengthens the theory that India was a significant hub for the early evolution of Tharosaurus and its relatives. The evidence suggests that this diplodocoid group of sauropods might have evolved and originated in India, marking the Indian landmass as a crucial site for their evolutionary history.

Expanding Our Knowledge

While this discovery is a remarkable step forward, it is important to note that it is just the beginning. The fossils found in the Thar desert provide valuable insights, but they are fragmentary. To gain a more comprehensive understanding of sauropod evolution, we need to discover more fossils, particularly complete skeletons or related specimens. These findings will not only illuminate sauropod evolution in India but also contribute to our global understanding of sauropod evolution and biogeography.

The Urgent Need for More Exploration

Indian dinosaurs are indeed rare, not because they didn’t exist, but because paleontological exploration and investment in India have been limited compared to countries like the United States, Canada, or China. Dr. Sunil Bajpai, a leading scientist in this endeavor, emphasizes the importance of increased attention to paleontological discoveries in India. The establishment of natural history museums is also crucial to showcase the vast fossil wealth that India possesses.


The discovery of Tharosaurus indicus in Rajasthan is a testament to India’s rich paleontological heritage. It unravels the mysteries of the Middle Jurassic period and reinforces the idea that India played a pivotal role in the early evolutionary history of sauropod dinosaurs. As scientists continue to explore and unearth more fossils, we can expect a clearer picture of the incredible world of dinosaurs that once roamed the Indian subcontinent.

Source: Tharosaurus Indicus – The Hindu

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