Monday, February 4, 2008

Fossil Parks

National Fossil Wood Park, Tiruvakkarai

The First National Fossil Wood Park of India

There are no real Jurassic Parks on earth.
But there are Fossil Parks which to the scientists are as interesting as the fictional Jurassic Parks.


Fossils are mineralized, or otherwise preserved, remains or traces of animals (such as footprints), plants, and other organisms.

Petrified Wood

The word petrified comes from the Greek word “petro” meaning “rock” or “stone”.
The word petroleum also comes from “petro”.
Petrified wood, which literally means “wood turned into stone”, is a type of fossil.
It is actually fossil wood where all the organic materials have been replaced with minerals (most often a silicate, such as quartz), while retaining the original structure of the wood.
The petrifaction process occurs underground, when wood becomes buried under sediment and is initially preserved due to lack of oxygen.
Mineral-rich water flowing through the sediment deposits minerals in the plant’s cells.
As the plant’s lignin and cellulose decay away, a stone mould forms in its place.
Elements such as manganese, iron and copper in the water / mud during the petrification process give petrified wood a variety of colour ranges.
Petrified wood can preserve the original structure of the wood, including tree rings and the tissue structures, in all its fine detail, down to the microsopic level. Petrified wood is very hard with a hardness of 7 on the Mohs Scale - the same as quartz.

Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona, U.S.)

The Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona U.S. has one of the world’s largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood in the world - mostly of the Araucarioxylon arizonicum species.

On December 8, 1906, the Petrified Forest area was designated a National Monument.
The Painted Desert was added later.
On December 9, 1962, the entire area covering 218,533 acres (885 sq. kms) was declared a national park.
But you don’t have to travel all the way to U.S. to see petrified trees.

India’s first National Fossil Wood Park (Tiruvakkarai)
Because what is not known is that there are Fossil Wood Parks in India, too.
These parks are maintained by the Geological Survey of India.
Their web site gives very cryptic mention.
Surely, the site could provide more elaborate and detailed information!

Over a decade ago, I was posted in Chennai (Madras).
I read somewhere about some fossilised trees near Pondicherry.
I wanted to see the trees.
I phoned up my officers in Pondicherry.
They had no idea.
I told them to contact the local Geological Department and the Archaelogical Department and find out.
(I was not sure which department would know).
And so one day, I landed up in National Fossil Wood Park, Tiruvakkarai.
The signboard, in Tamil, read ‘National Fossil Wood Park, Tiruvakkarai, Villupuram District, Tamilnadu’.
(Thank God. An English sign board has since been added.)

There was a barbed wire fence with a gate on which hung a small padlock.
We could have easily jumped over the small fence.
But that would have been most ungraceful, and un-officer like.
So we sent someone to the neighbouring village to find out and bring the watchman and waited.
Finally, he came, opened the gate and we entered into 20 million years of history.

The 20 million year old wood fossils, scattered over 247 acres, are fenced within nine separate enclaves.
Only a small portion is open to the public.
There are 200 fossil trees of various shapes ranging between 3 and 15 metres in length and up to 5 metres in girth.
They lie strewn and half-buried in the soil.
The fossilized tree trunks are brown and look very much like wood, but are as hard as rock. Scientists speculate that the trees did not originally grow at that site, but were transported there before they were petrified.
Sonneret, a European naturalist, first gave detailed account of the fossils in 1781.

Seeing around

You can visit the Tiruvakkarai village which is situated in picturesque surroundings on the northern bank of a small river called Sankaraabarni.
The river is safe for visitors because there is not much water in it, but mainly sand.

Chandrasekharar Temple
You can visit the ancient Chandrasekharar Temple at Tiruvakkarai.
This vast temple covers an area of 3 acres.
It has a seven-tiered 85 feett high Rajagopuram and two prakarams and also houses a large Nandi.
This temple was famous even during the period of Aditya Chola I in 10th century.
It was renovated by the queen Sembian Mahadevi.
There is a Kali shrine dating back to the Pallava period.
The chariot shaped 100 pillared hall and the outer gopuram was built in the days of Kulottunga Chola III.

Getting there

The National Fossil Wood Park is located 1 km east of Tiruvakkarai village on the road between Tindivanam and Pondicherry.
It is 155 kms S.S.W. of Chennai via Tindivanam and a mere 20 kms from Pondicherry.
The road is good.


The nearest good accommodation is in Pondicherry.
You can also find some simple accommodation at Tindivanam.

If you travel to Chennai or Pondicherry, visit India’s unknown First National Fossil Wood Park.
Discover the wonders of nature.
This is as close to Jurassic Park as you will ever get.

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