March 13, 2017

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Where are Our Dinosaurs Hiding?

While I was in the matriculation class in the early 1950s, the English text book prescribed was The Lost World written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (first published in 1912). It was a science fiction about an expedition led by one Professor Challenger, its main character. The expedition discovered the prehistoric creatures including dinosaurs, still alive and thriving on an isolated plateau in the Amazon Basin. It was a very interesting book and since then I was obsessed with the dinosaurs. Also the movies: such as the Jurassic Park series and other similar ones based on the dinosaurs, kept my interest in them alive.
Later in life, I came across many literatures about the discoveries of dinosaur fossils in many places around the world. When I first learned about the discovery of a never before found species in China many decades ago, I was greatly intrigued to know whether there could be dinosaurs that once roamed in our country too. If they had existed in our country, I thought we too will have dinosaur fossils hidden somewhere.
Apart from the fossils of minor later day species, for example, the fragments of the primates’ fossils in the Pakkoku area and fossils of ancient reptiles from the late dinosaur age, no genuine dinosaur fossils were uncovered until lately. Thus the discovery of a bloodied feathered tail of a tiny dinosaur encased inside a piece of amber found in the Hukawng Valley in the Kachin State was a breakthrough. It provided some hope that fossils of larger dinosaurs could also be lying around waiting to be discovered.
The research carried out on that amber revealed that the feathered tail belonged to a tiny bird-like dinosaur and dated back 99 million years. It could be a hatchling or a juvenile bird that would grow larger or it could be a fully matured tiny bird about the size of a robin. One thing extraordinary about that find is: it was the first time ever, to find a body part of a dinosaur trapped in raisin and also dating back closest to the Jurassic Period.
Although that discovery may be a breakthrough and something to take pride in, it is regretable that the said piece of amber was bought two years ago from an amber market in Myitkyina by a Chinese paleontologist. Before this amazing discovery I knew that our Hukawng Valley area produces rare ambers, in which rare species of insects were trapped, dating back so many millions of years. These objects have great scientific values and are great losses to the country as they are now in the possessions of the foreigners. More regretful is the fact that we learned about the existence of such rare and unique ambers was from the foreign media. At the time the news of this discovery emerged, it was heralded in the world media.
Here, I would like to mention a dinosaur fossil discovery in Thailand. After my retirement in 1996, I used to visit Thailand frequently. On one occasion in 1997, I had an unexpected opportunity to visit a dinosaur fossil site in Isaan, which is the name for the North Eastern part of Thailand. While we were on our way by motor vehicle to Ubon Ratchthani Province from Udon Thani Province, both situated in Isaan, I saw an interesting billboard by the roadside. It advertised a dinosaur museum nearby, off the highway we were traveling.
My curiosity and my inherent interest in dinosaurs since my high school days  incited in me an urge to go and see that place. It was somewhere in the Phu Wiang mountain in the Khon Kaen Province. There I found a museum, where the dinosaur fossils and replicated skeletons of different dinosaur species and geological finds were displayed.
There I also had a chance to study the fossilized dinosaur foot prints preserved in the sandstones nearby. I learned that the discovery was made in 1976 while a US led Geological Survey Team was prospecting for uranium and was the first ever discovery in Thailand. The very first find was a piece of bone fragment that was identified by experts to belong to a sauropod, a plant-eating dinosaur with very long neck that walked on four legs and could grow to great heights. It was a very interesting and educative experience for me.
Later, I learned that there are three such sites in Thailand. The other two are also in the Isaan region. One is at a place called Kalasin and the other is at Nakhon Phanom. When they discovered the one at Kalasin, I was staying in Thailand, so I had an opportunity to get detailed up to date informations from the media as they were divulged.
Taking into considerations the facts that dinosaur fossils of various sizes, ranging from a hen to large dinosaurs, such as the theropods and sauropods that were nearly 15 meters tall were found in Thailand and also the findings in China led me to believe that our country also could have them. The reasons to believe thus are the similarity in the terrains, vegetations, weather conditions and the habitats in some parts of China, Thailand and our country. Also the closeness of those places is another good reason to believe that these creatures would have roamed to and fro in these region hundred of million years ago.
So, where are our large dinosaur fossils hidden? I’m sure they are somewhere, but what we are lacking are: interests in them, well trained paleontologists, and lack of knowledge by our general populace about the fossils and their values. I included the last reason because I had learned about some such discoveries in other countries were accidental, made by ordinary persons. Now that the first evidence of the existence of dinosaur, though small it may be, I strongly believe that one day, the remains of larger dinosaurs will be found in our country too.
I would like to mention a strange, but true story of one discovery in Thailand. It was at Kalasin. I said it was strange because according to the media stories I had read over a decade ago, an abbot of a forest monastery had a strange dream one night. In the dream he saw many strange creatures beneath the monastery that was built on high stilts to be safe from the dangers of wild animals. As the abbot was a bit knowledgable of the dinosaurs, he knew those creatures in his dream were dinosaurs. The next day he dug the ground under his monastery. To his surprise he came upon large fossilized bones. The discovery was reported to the authorities that led to the discovery of another dinosaur fossil site. The story sounded supernatural. Though I’m not much into these supernatural things, I had to accept that it was true because the abbot was quite adamant about his dream.
I hope someday we might discover large dinosaur fossils by accident or even by supernatural means. Some may wonder why I’m so enthusiastic about discovering the remains of these ancient creatures that had been extinct for so many million years. The first reason is: it would bring reputation to the country and would attract more tourists and secondly, our people would  be more knowledgable and value our distant past and lastly, it is my obsession with these creatures since my school days. In conclusion, I would like to suggest that trading in such objects of scientific values should be strictly monitored. They are our National Treasures.


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