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Updated December 24th, 2023 at 18:54 IST

Paleontologists find the origin of oldest known fossil of a fruit found in India | DEETS Inside

In a milestone discovery, palaeontologists have found that the mysterious fossil of a fruit found in India in the 1970s belonged to the Frankincense family.

CT scanning of small fossil fruit found in India in 1970s
CT scanning of small fossil fruit found in India in 1970s | Image:Steven Manchester
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In a milestone discovery, palaeontologists have found that the mysterious fossil of a fruit found in India in the 1970s belonged to the Frankincense family, reshaping our understanding of how plants evolved. According to Scitech Daily, researchers have determined that the fossilised fruits of an unknown extinct plant species came from the earliest known fossil of the family Burseraceae. The fossil of the fruit, was first uncovered in India by a palaeontologist working on the outskirts of a village. They found small, bead-like fossils embedded in the grey chert dotting the surrounding fields.

The village site was notorious for turning up plant fossils that were difficult to identify, this included the fruit of an extinct species resignedly given the name “Enigmocarpon". While the history of the fossil of the fruit in question was intractable, more of such fossils were discovered in India over the next several decades. However, the scientists had little luck deciding what type of plant they belonged to.  

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When did the breakthrough occur

Steven Manchester, curator of palaeobotany at the Florida Museum of Natural History used CT scanning technology to create a 3D reconstructions of the original fossil specimens and others collected since. After the model was constructed he and his colleague noticed something odd about the five triangular seeds inside the fossil. “When I showed them the 3D images, those aren’t seeds, those are pyrenes," Manchester remarked. Pyrenes are commonly known as pits or stones, are the woody dispersal pods found in fruits called drupes or drupelets. Pyrenes are basically the hard stones at the cores of cherries, peaches, dates and pistachios, which prevent the seeds from being digested along with the rest of the fruit.

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While it is usually easy for common humans to describe the difference between Pyrenes and seeds, in this case, it was extremely difficult to tell the difference due to its small size. “If we had specimens that fractured at just the right plane, I would have been able to recognise them, but with the material we had on hand, I couldn’t tell,” Manchester explained. Once the palaeontologists determined that they were pyrenes, it was relatively easy to determine which ancient plant group they belonged to. Following the discovery, Manchester highlighted that it is important to study the biodiversity that emerged in the southern hemisphere. “It could be that we just don’t have rocks of the right age in Europe to indicate that they were there, but this shows that we can’t dismiss the southern hemisphere as a point of origin,” Manchester averred. 

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Published December 24th, 2023 at 18:53 IST

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