Two experts from the Geological Survey of India (GSI) found imprints of the Dickinsonia —the Earth's 'oldest animal', dating back 570 million years in the fascinating Bhimbetka rock shelters, a Unesco site about 40km from Bhopal.
Researchers believe they have found the first-ever Dickinsonia fossil in India on the roof of what's called the 'Auditorium Cave' at Bhimbetka, reports Times of India.
The find has been published in the February edition of Gondwana Research, an international journal. Dickinsonia fossils have shown they could exceed four feet in length but the one found in Bhimbetka is 17 inches long.
The experts were on a sightseeing tour of Bhimbetka ahead of the 36th International Geological Congress, which was scheduled for March 2020 but was postponed twice due to the pandemic, when they spotted the leaf-like impression.
Eleven feet above the ground, almost blending with the rock and easily mistaken by laymen for prehistoric rock art, they found imprints of the Dickinsonia, believed to be one of the key links between the early, simple organisms and the explosion of life in the Cambrian Period, about 541 million years ago.
"The fossils were found in the roof of Auditorium Cave at Bhimbetka Rock Shelters, a Unesco World Heritage Site for Paleolithic and Mesolithic cave art, near Bhopal. They are identical with Dickinsonia tenuis from the Ediacaran member of the Rawnsley Quartzite in South Australia," says an abstract of the paper 'Dickinsonia Discovered in India and Late Ediacaran Biogeography' in Gondwana Research, posted on the web.
The writeup is attributed to Gregory J Retallack, Neffra A Matthews, Sharad Master, Ranjit G Khangar and Merajuddin Khan. "The discovery of Dickinsonia in India allows assessment of biogeographic provinces and plate tectonic reconstructions for the late Ediacaran," it says.
According to the article, the new occurrence confirms the assembly of Gondwanaland by 550 Million years ago, but not reconstructions adjusted for true polar wander. "Cloudina and other small shelly marine fossils were low latitude, but vendobionta such as Dickinsonia were at temperate to subtropical latitudes."
The Bhimbetka rock shelters were found by V S Wakankar 64 years ago. Since then, thousands of researchers have visited the site, but this rare fossil went undetected.
According to Unesco, the Bhimbetka rock art is believed to date from the Mesolithic period (around 10,000 years ago), through the Chalcolithic (Microlithic) and right into the historic, medieval and recent historic periods.
ASI Bhopal superintendent Piyush Bhatt said they had not received no request for sampling of the found Dickinsonia.