October 5, 2009
Last week the BBC reported that a team of geologists from Periyar University stumbled upon dozens of fossilized dinosaur eggs in the state of Tamil Nadu, India.
The geologists had been excavating a riverbed when they discovered layer upon layer of dinosaur eggs measuring 5 to 9 inches in diameter. The eggs have yet to be studied, but paleontologists who have been shown photos of the eggs suspect that they were laid by some sort of sauropod dinosaur. Mu Ramkumar, who was among the scientists who discovered the site, said that it appears as if the dinosaurs kept returning to the same spot year after year. If this is true, this site may represent an established nesting ground.
Speculation has already begun to surround the fossil eggs, however. Ramkumar told the BBC that the eggs were associated with a layer of volcanic ash, which he interpreted as meaning that volcanic activity caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Some paleontologists hypothesize that intense volcanic activity at a site called the Deccan Traps in central India was the true cause for the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous 65 million years ago, although this is not widely accepted. The ash itself will help in determining the age of the site and testing this idea.
Ramkumar also told the BBC that the eggs he and his colleagues discovered were all infertile. This assessment is premature as no research has yet been conducted that could reveal whether any of the eggs contained embryos. Obviously this nesting site was often covered by some kind of sediment and killed the eggs, but there is nothing about it to suggest that mother dinosaurs were laying unfertilized eggs.
For now, though, a bigger concern is keeping the site safe. Fossils are big business, and paleontologists are constantly worried about fossil sites being raided to supply a fossil black market. The site could be vandalized before detailed studies can be carried out, and local scientists are appealing to the government to protect the site from destruction.
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