Captain Proby Thomas Cautley, an engineer of the Bengal Artillery (and a palaeontologist) did pioneering research on the geology of India and discovered many fossil remains of extinct quadrupeds at the southern foot of the Himalayas. Dr. Hugh Falconer, Superintendent of the Botanic Garden at Saharunpore was his close research associate. The duo were conferred the Wollaston Medal in 1837, the highest scientific award for geology granted by the Geological Society of London. The rare fossils discovered and extracted by the geologists were gifted by them to the British Museum and to universities and scientific societies.
Captain Cautley was engaged in the task of supervising the digging of the Doab Canal (Eastern Yamuna Canal) from 1831 to 1843 and made some discoveries during this digging. He had no knowledge of fossil bones but was drawn to the subject until he became an expert and made some remarkable discoveries including fossils of hippopotamus, crocodiles, giant cranesand tortoises as well as the sabre-toothed tiger.
A letter written by Captain Cautley to the Secretary of the Bengal Asiatic Society was published in the 19th Volume of the Asiatic Journal in 1836 in which he described his work at Moginund and Khet Purali villages in the Morni foothills. The letter forms interesting reading and is reproduced below:
|‘A trip to the Sewaliks, near the Pinjore valley, lately, has introduced us to the Anoplotherium, in a perfect line of six molars on one side, and four in the other side of upper jaw. I say Anoplotherium, for the real molars have the distinguishing mark in the insulated mamilla pointed out by Cuvier, as that which distinguishes the Anoplotherium from the Palaeotherium, although the position of the molar bone, part of which is distinguishable, appears to differ from that of the former animal, and gives it a greater resemblance to the Palaeotherium. This is a beautiful fossil, and dug out; but I must give you the history of the last week.I had to visit Dadupur, on canal matters, and found both Baker and Durand as eager as myself for a short excursion into the Sewaliks; and as all our parties were out, we determined on visiting those most westerly, who were working at a village called Moginund (a common name apparently), in the Ramgurh district, about fifty miles west of Dadupur. Our route took us through Sidaura, Naraingurh, Mir ka Gurhi, Ramgurh, to the village of Moginund, which lies in the nook of these little hills, open only on the west: here we remained three days, returning to Dadupur by regular marches, and visiting Khet Purali, another little village close under the hills on our way, as near this village is a stratum of a clay conglomerate, or marl, full of testaceous remains, chiefly bivalves (varieties of unio), reptiles and fish. The country on this route was open and well cultivated; rice in great abundance, and cultivation of all sorts up to the foot of the hills. These hills differ much in appearance from those between the Jamna and Ganges; the abruptly scarped precipices, and mural cliffs, with the huge strata of shingle, are here replaced by a comparatively low series of undulating hills, consisting of an eternal succession of sands and clays, with here and there beds of a coarse sandstone, or fine shingle conglomerate, accessible at all points excepting those where slips have taken place and free from jungle and high vegetation, excepting in hollows, and the lines of ravines skirting the tributaries to the main outlets of drainage. The hills were covered with fossils like all the others (how they could have escaped observation before, must remain a source of wonder); mastodons and hippopotamus’s remains looking one in the face at every step! Amongst the remains collected, were those of rat and porcupine, too perfect to admit of any doubt. The specimens of each consisting of the palate, with the two lines of molars! Although three days at this place, and superintending my digging parties, I must confess my inability to decide strictly whether we were looking in a stratum or in debris: this may appear strange to a person who has been unaccustomed to examine and decide on the position of strata, but will be understood and appreciated, I imagine, by anyone who has had his attention strictly brought to bear upon the point. Shrubs, inequalities of surface, ravines, et hoc genus omne, all and each of them battling every inch. I am, however, inclined to consider that we had both, and that we were working in both a soft sandstone stratum, and also in a superficial coating of debris. A great number of perfect bones, the whole series of a leg for instance, jaw bones and other remains, were fairly found and dug out from the rock; at other places huge masses of hard rock were found imbedded in the softer rock or soil, the said masses consisting in most cases of agglutinated bones: the shapes of these masses give an appearance of their having fallen formerly from some parent rock, and being now found as debris; but the circumstance of finding the connected joints of animals is altogether in favour of the excavation being in the stratum in which they were originally deposited. The question does not appear to me of much consequence, as the bones are not rounded by attrition, and are as sharp and perfect in their form and outline, as when belonging to the living animal, although frequently broken, and jammed together, as would be the case in a skeleton or a mass of bones being forced together in an upheavement of the country upon which or in which they were collected.I may remark that our excavation was not on the outcrop of the strata, but in the slope, and the working parties were successful in their operations at many points on the whole surface of that side of the mountain. This deposit appears to be altogether wanting in the mastodons, reptiles and hippopotami: the remains at present dug out consist of portions of anoplotherium or palaeotherium, rhinoceros, hog, horse, ruminants of the most gigantic dimensions, with those of the smaller classes, carnivora, hyaena, canis, tiger (or lion), and a smaller species of a feline animal, a very perfect cranium of which is in the possession of Lieuts. Durand and Baker. Many of the bones of these animals are coming out perfect, and some have been found, as I before mentioned, in connected joints! With reference to the Sivatherium, I regretted much my inability to obtain the dimensions of one of the most superb fossils, I suppose, that ever was found; it was unfortunately discovered and excavated by a party of work-people employed by a gentleman with whom I was unacquainted, and although I saw the fossil when in the rock, I was prevented from getting the measurements afterwards. This specimen consisted of the femur and tibia, with the tarsal, metatarsal, and phalanges of one of these gigantic ruminants that time and patience will and must introduce us to. In the bones of all the animals discovered, there are differences from those of their existing congeners,that will be pointed out hereafter; it may be sufficient here to advert to the fact. The teeth that are found at this spot are beautifully perfect, and, from the softness of the matrix or rock in which they are imbedded, easily cleared and exhibited. There is an evident grouping of animals throughout! The hippopotami, mastodons, &c. Which in some localities are in such abundance, are in others wanting; their place being occupied by carnivore, ruminants, &c. The testaceous remains as yet found have been accompanied by reptiles and fish. We have in fact an extended tract of country upheaved, and the different groups, as might be expected, in their natural habitats! It is hardly a month since I attempted, in a note on the Garial of these hills, to enumerate the probable proportions of animals that existed on this tract. During this short period, we have added another family, Rodentia to our catalogue, and another genus of the Pachyderma, besides the splendid additions to our former list in the further elucidation of those already found, in the discovery of more perfect specimens of bone, especially of the horse, rhinoceros, and the larger ruminants. You will join with me in an exclamation, whicj has been upon my lips, day after day, since the discovery of the first fragment of bone-‘What shall we have next?’”|
The picture shows ‘Sivatherium’ a fossil skull of a large mammal described by Cautley and Falconer that the duo believed would have resembled a giant antelope.
The study of the fossils in the Sewaliks by the 19th century palaeontologists and geologists led to the now largely accepted hypothesis that an ancient sea occupied the valleys of the Indus and Ganges,washing the bases of the Himalaya on one side and the Vindhyas of the Deccan on the other and receiving the silt bearing rivers from both. In course of time the sea was filled up and the alluvial valleys were teeming with animals whose bones are now embedded in the Sewaliks. There were mastodons, elephants, species of hippopotami, rhinoceroses, giraffes, horses, pigs, camels, stags, antelopes, hyaenas, dogs, cats, monkeys, ostriches and huge cranes.There were also the Sivatherium, a bull the size of an elephant with four horns and the Colossachelys atlas a gigantic tortoise 22 feet long and 6 feet high.The northward movement of tectonic plates pushed up the narrow belt of plains at the foot of the Himalayas to form the 3500 feet high Sewaliks in which are now buried the fossils of the earlier fauna.
Thus what we now know as the Morni hills were once the bed of an ancient sea and then an alluvial valley that was thrust up to form the low hills.
- The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British and Foreign India, China and Australasia-Volume 19 (1836)
- Geology- Introductory, Descriptive and Practical Vol.2; David Thomas Ansted (1844)
- A Memoir on the Indian Surveys; Clements R. Markham (1871)