Saturday, July 26, 2003
T A K I N G   N O T E 

Asia’s lone fossil park
Left to fossilise
Ambika Sharma

The Shivalik Fossil Park at Saketi displays models of prehistoric animals which roamed the Shivalik Hills
The Shivalik Fossil Park at Saketi displays models of prehistoric animals which roamed the Shivalik Hills

THE Shivalik Fossil Park, Saketi, situated amidst the picturesque Shivalik Hills in the Markanda valley in Sirmaur district of Himachal Pradesh, is the only fossil park in Asia which houses preserved remains of prehistoric animals. Inaugurated in 1974, it displays models of prehistoric animals which thrived in the area 1 to 2.5 million years ago.

Reachable from Nahan (which is 22 km away), one has to cross the Markanda bridge and an inhospitable stretch of 12 km. The reason for the poor condition of the road, Deputy Commissioner Onkar Sharma says, is that the road goes through the land belonging to villagers, who have shown little interest in surrendering it for construction of a proper road.

Not only does the bad condition of the road deter tourists from visiting the park but lack of funds and a skeletal staff have also adversely affected the maintenance of this place. The Geological Survey of India, which looks after the museum, has appointed three chowkidaars to look after the models displayed in the park.


There is a tourism information centre at the park, which besides displaying pamphlets on HP tourism, has nothing much to boast of. What impresses a visitor is the enthusiasm with which caretaker Shiv Charan, who has been serving the park for the last 25 years, provides details of the several fossils exhibited in the museum. Little is being done, however, to promote the site as a tourist centre. Models displayed in the park narrate a tale of neglect. You do not even have any pathways to the various models spread all over the park. A dinosaur caf`E9, started some years ago to attract tourists, also did not survive for long as its employees were transferred to Shimla within six months.

The road leading to the park is poorly maintained
The road leading to the park is poorly maintained

What astonishes one is the fact that neither the state government nor the GSI has done much to promote the park. A number of spectacular fossil samples belonging to vertebrate groups have been exhibited in the museum set up in the park. It has an interesting collection, ranging from skulls of bovids to various parts of hippopotamuses, which thrived 20-30 lakh years ago. Remains of rocks as old as 21 million years old and tusks of 22 species of elephants, which survived some 10 lakh years ago, are also exhibited in the museum. The country’s postage stamp to commemorate the centenary of the Geological Survey of India in 1951 is displayed as well. This stamp has a picture of two elephants with tusks. The tusk specimens are displayed below the stamp.

Also on display is the skull of hippopotamus( dariyai ghora) found in copious amount from the 20-30 lakh-year-old rocks. It has sabre-shaped six fore teeth and two big teeth. The animal which has become extinct existed some 15 lakh years ago. Bones of tortoises, gharials and crocodiles, found in the Shivalik rocks in the Saketi region, are indicative of the presence of these reptiles in the region. Another spectacular fossil on display is the large-sized tortoise which survived 20-25 lakh years ago. The fossils have been excavated from rocks as old as 20-30 lakh years.

The giant land tortoise inhabited the Shivalik area about 2.5 million years ago
The giant land tortoise inhabited the Shivalik area about 2.5 million years ago

The presence of remains of hippopotamuses, elephants, giraffes from the Pinjore area, fishes from the Shivalik region, amphibians and reptiles from Mumbai, Kota as well as Kashmir make the museum a microcosm of prehistoric fauna. The museum also displays fossils of some prehistoric plants. A large collection of stone objects, which are also among the oldest ones used by the Early Palaeolithic Man, have been displayed at the museum. They are known to be some 2.5 million years old and recovered from the Indian subcontinent.

The sprawling park, spread over 1.5 sq km, exhibits models of various animals like crocodile, sabre-tooth tiger, hippopotamus, giant land tortoise, giant elephant and four-horned giraffe. The sabre-tooth tiger was nearly as large as the living tiger, and possessed very long upper canine teeth. The sabre-like teeth may have been used for inflicting slicing wounds on its prey and causing death by bleeding. This animal species disappeared nearly one million years ago along with numerous other advanced species of elephants. Yet another model displayed in the park is that of the hippopotamus which was almost of the same size as the living hippopotamus, but had six incisors, relatively wider mouth, smaller brain cavity, longer lower jaw and pig-like legs. The species had a very large population in the Shivalik area about 2.5 million years ago after which it became extinct.

The giant land tortoise, the largest of all tortoises, inhabited the Shivalik area in large numbers about 2.5 million years ago. Its model with a thick protective shell, measuring about three metres across, can be seen in the park. The animal gradually dwindled in number during the last two million years and its size also gradually got reduced. One can also have a look at the giant-sized elephants which existed 7 to 1.5 million years ago. Nearly fifteen such species existed in the Shivalik region. These giant elephants possessed a relatively small cranium, extraordinarily large pair of tusks and massive limb-bones. Most of these elephants became extinct during the last 1.5 million years. Ancestors of giraffe inhabited the Shivalik region and evolved along diverse lines 7 to 1.5 million years ago. One of them, sivatherium giganteum, was a large, four- horned giraffe with an extraordinary heavy skull and a relatively short neck.

This park needs to be preserved by ensuring availability of adequate funds and staff, who can take proper care of this historic site. The construction and maintenance of the link road will also go a long way in promoting this place of historical eminence.

Photos: Gundeep Singh