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Amber fossils shed light on India’s past

The discovery of perfectly preserved insects in India has challenged the assumption that the country was an isolated island continent about 52 million years ago.

A COLLECTION OF newly discovered bees, ants and spiders found in huge amber deposits in India has shown that the subcontinent did not evolve in isolation, as previously assumed.

The creatures found preserved in the amber lived about 50 million years ago, scientists say, and survived the extinction of the dinosaurs. The insects would have been living before the time that mammals began to evolve.

The amber deposits were found within open-cast coal mines of the Cambay region, in north-west India. Scientists say that the amber was produced by a tree of family of tropical hardwood trees that still exist in south-east Asia.

Amber is formed when the sticky sap produced by certain trees solidifies into hard resin. The sap has antiseptic properties to ward off fungi and bacteria that might attack the tree, and so helps to perfectly preserve the bodies of  insects that become entrapped in it.

Many large amber deposits have been found in Baltic regions but the fossil within them are often only shells, as the soft insides have dissolved. However, the specimens found in India are intact.

Professor Jes Rust a paleontologist at Bonn University in Germany, who led the team, told The Guardian:

We are able to dissolve the amber and get the specimens completely out. This is really outstanding. It’s like getting a complete dinosaur out of the amber and being able to put it under the microscope.

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The organisms in the amber are closely related to other species found in northern Europe, Australia, New Guinea and tropical America.

Rust said:

The amber shows, similar to an old photo, what life looked like in India just before the collision with the Asian continent. The insects trapped in the fossil resin cast a new light on the history of the sub-continent.

Amber fossils shed light on India’s past
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