In 2005, Nakhon Ratchasima, the pride of Thailand, came under the international spotlight, thanks to a unique finding that would soon spark massive scientific and global interest. An enigmatic alligator fossil was found, and it was an earth-shattering revelation of a new species, separate from its American and Chinese kin. This captivating discovery was made courtesy of the alertness of a local resident in Non Sung district, who stumbled upon it buried beneath two metres of sandy sediment.
The Department of Mineral Resources was immediately notified, and in collaboration with German researchers, a deep dive into the fossil’s identity began. The identified fossil, consisting of a skull, two jawbones and five other fragments, was swiftly subjected to carbon dating. Results traced the fossil back in time, taking us to a window approximately 230,000 years ago during the Pleistocene period, a time long before modern humans began to affect the global ecosystem.
The internationally collaborated research squad didn’t just stop there. They meticulously compared this unique fossil with the known samples of Alligator mississippiensis, prevalent in the United States, and Alligator sinensis, found commonly in the vast terrains of China. The incredible conclusion? This mysterious fossil belonged to a separate alligator species, one native to the region where it was discovered.
This groundbreaking discovery, narrated by Thitiphan Chuchanchot, the deputy chief of the Department of Mineral Resources, stirred global interest. This latest scientific endeavour was duly noted in the internationally acclaimed Scientific Reports, a peer-reviewed journal in association with Nature.
The discovery was duly honoured, with the alligator fossil named ‘Alligator munensis’, a callback to its discovery location in the majestic Mun River basin. The Centre of Excellence for the Morphology of Earth Surface and Advanced Geohazards in Southeast Asia-representative, researcher Kantapon Suraprasit, shared insight into the present scenario. This species of the alligator is solely found in the United States and China, where it critically faces the risk of extinction.
Delving deeper into the alligator ancestry, it remains a mystery how these two alligator species diverged from their common forbearer as was speculated by experts. However, their hypothesis hints at a possible common ancestor, an ancient alligator species that dominated the river basins of the Yangtze and Mekong-Chao Phraya.
This one-of-a-kind discovery has truly enriched the field of palaeontology and opened the floodgates for further exploration. Who knows what other secrets the sandy sediments of Thailand’s river basins will reveal in the future?