Meghalaya dinosaur
Bashisha Iangrai at the Echinoid site of Phlang, Mawsyrpat.

Earlier this month, researchers from the Geological Survey of India (GSI) identified fossil bone fragments of sauropod dinosaurs dating back to about 100 million years from an area around West Khasi Hills District in Meghalaya.

The GSI researchers noted that this is the first record of sauropods of probable Titanosaurian origin discovered in the region. The research was not only special for its findings, but it was also done by an all-women’s team.

The findings were particularly sweet for one of the researchers, Bashisha Iangrai, a Shillong native who is also a Senior Geologist at the Palaeontology Division, GSI, Northeast region, Shillong.

With these findings, Meghalaya became the fifth state in India after Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu and the only state in the North-East to report Sauropod bones having titanosaurian affinity.

The following are the excerpts of an interview with Iangrai:

1) Could you tell us a little about where you grew up? Where did you study and research before joining GSI?

I was born and brought up in Shillong. I did my schooling from Synod Higher Secondary School, Shillong, Class XI & XII from Lady Keane College, Shillong, and Bachelors from St. Anthony’s College, Shillong. 

I did my Masters from Savitribai Phule Pune University, Pune, Maharashtra, and qualified for the UPSC Geologist exam in 2008 before finally joining GSI in 2010. My first posting as a Geologist was at Faridabad, GSI, SU: Haryana. 

I was transferred to Shillong and joined the GSI, Palaeontology Division, Regional Headquarter at Shillong in November 2014. 

2) Geology is not a common field of interest among the youth. What made you pick this subject over, say, regular options? Is there a moment in your life you remember when you decided you wanted to be a geologist?

During my graduation at St. Anthony’s College, Shillong, initially, I was tempted to take up subjects like Biotechnology, Pisciculture, Mass Communication, Computer Science etc. However, as an ardent lover of nature, I always wanted to be closer to nature, even in my professional life, and finally, I opted for Geology. Knowing that Geology is a subject with fieldwork involved, I realised that I could fulfil my dream of exploring, travelling and learning together. 

3) As a Meghalaya resident, how did you feel when your state became national news for the work your team did?

I am very happy that with our finding, Meghalaya now will be represented on the map globally for preserving Sauropods, the iconic gigantic dinosaurs, and the largest terrestrial animal on earth. 

Being a Khasi lady from Meghalaya, I definitely felt elated. It is a sense of pride to bring laurel to the state with our work with my team comprising of Dr Linashree Dalabehera, Senior Geologist and Dr Debahuti Mukherjee, Suptdg. Geologist.

The all-women team which found the fossil bone fragments of sauropod dinosaurs

4) Do you think students in Meghalaya are discouraged from pursuing off-beat courses like Geology?

Although Geology is a lesser-known subject of science, during all these years, as a part of our mandate of GSI we reach out to students from secondary school levels and interact with them and give them exposure to different aspects of geological research which is highly interesting being related to study of mother earth. It has been seen that more and more numbers of students are taking up this subject in their graduation levels as the main subject. Geology is a very interesting subject. It has different branches like exploration in petroleum, coal and mineral resources, mapping, natural hazards studies like earthquake and landslide, engineering geology, geo-environmental studies and fundamental research work like ours. With more awareness and understanding about the subject and with our present findings, hopefully, many students will be motivated and enthused to take up Geology as their subject in their higher studies and consider it as a career option. 

5) What is your message to the students who have observed your recent work?

The present find of dinosaur fossils from Meghalaya is significant in terms of putting the geographic boundaries of Meghalaya during the Cretaceous times. This find will definitely draw a lot of inquisitive students of geology from Meghalaya. I sincerely hope and encourage the students of earth science of the northeast to further explore the rock records which store such significant evidence of earth’s history to come forward and pursue Geology as their career prospect. 

The scope of the GSI provides to its geoscientists not only in the field of Palaeontology but also in other diverse fields of Geology like research in earthquake geology, landslide susceptibility mapping, mega-engineering constructions etc. which is immense. As a palaeontologist, I wish more and more students will be motivated to become palaeontologists. They can contribute and add more knowledge, particularly in enriching and enhancing the palaeontological work of Meghalaya and the region as a whole and especially in protecting and preserving the existing wealth of fossils present in Northeast India. This region is rich in varieties of fossils, both mega and micro, including vertebrates, invertebrates and plant fossils. Meghalaya is one unique state which is a storehouse of fossils. 

6) Have other states in the Northeast shown similar promise like Meghalaya when it comes to dinosaur bones?

The Mesozoic era commonly known as the Age of the Reptiles spanning from about 250 to about 65 million years ago comprises the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. When it comes to dinosaur bones, the Upper Cretaceous (about 100.5 to about 65 million years) Mahadek Formation of the Khasi Group of rocks of Meghalaya is probably the only formation where dinosaur bones and eggs can be unearthed. As in other parts of NE, the stratigraphic rock record of this age is not preserved. Hence fossils of dinosaurs are expected only here. Interestingly, the Cretaceous- Palaeogene boundary (K-Pg boundary), one of the major mass extinction events where dinosaurs became extinct about 65 million years ago was also recorded in Meghalaya. 

7) Could you tell us a little more about your line of work?

Presently, as a palaeontologist I am carrying out research work in palaeontological studies of Oceanic Pelagic sediments, Disang and Barail Group sediments in Ukhrul and Chandel Districts of Manipur and its implication on constraining the stratigraphic age. Along with this, research work on the study of the mega- invertebrate fauna from the Surma Group in Garo Hills of Meghalaya and North Cachar Hills of Assam and their paleoenvironmental and palaeobiogeographical significance is being taken up. The objective of the forthcoming research programme is a systematic study of the fossil assemblage and correlation, paleoenvironmental reconstruction and palaeobiogeographical study. 

The research activities which are taken up annually include both field and laboratory work with a systematic study on the taxonomic identification of the fossils, data analysis and interpretation to understand their biostratigraphy, evolution, palaeoenvironment and palaeobiogeographic implications. 

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