BSIP at a Glance

Professor Birbal Sahni, FRS, established the Institute in the year 1946 to explore and develop palaeobotany as a science in itself, visualizing its potential in solving issues of origin and evolution of plant life, other geological issues including exploration of fossil fuels. Originally plant fossil and related studies based, the mandate of the BSIP was recently expanded to combine it with other areas of palaeosciences, and creating modern facilities to achieve this end. The newly widened mandate aims to look at

  • Understanding origin and evolution of life through time

  • Understanding climate change in recent and deep geological times

  • Understanding past civilization and human history

  • Application of palaeosciences to exploration programmes of oil and coal industry

BSIP is striving to attain excellence in R&D through a dedicated scientific team together with integrated innovative ideas in basic and applied research. In its broadest sense, the BSIP seeks to interpret plant life evolution and geological processes involved, and environmental evolution through time.
Initially, the BSIP laid emphasis on more fundamental aspects of Indian fossil floras, but diversified in due course include biostratigraphic dating, correlation of surface and subsurface sediments, and exploring areas favourable for fossil fuel deposits. The main research work involves the understanding of plant evolution through geological time. Emphasis has been made to derive knowledge about the diversification of Precambrian life, diversity, distribution and inter-basinal correlation of Gondwana and Tertiary floras, coal/lignite quality and to understand the interaction between the climate and change of vegetation in Quaternary Period.
The palaeofloristic scenarios of the bygone eras help us to figure out the past climatic and environmental changes. However, it is important to tag these climate change events to a time scale, of which study of tree-rings to deduce palaeomonsoon/climate is an important aspect. Dating and study of samples of archaeobotanical as well as studies on ancient DNA are critical to understand the (co-)evolution of culture and civilization. Work on organic petrology to evaluate the quality of lignites/coals for their economic utilization, besides depositional conditions is well under way. Samples for all studies towards fulfilling the BSIP mandate are collected from far and wide, including the polar (Arctic/ Antarctic) regions.
The museum of the Institute offers a rich repository of fossils collected from India and received from around the globe. A special attraction is the Foundation stone itself, put up in 1949, with 77 fossils inlaid. The Institute posseses a rich collection of literature on palaeosciences. It also houses a herbarium to aid comparing the past and the present vegetation. The radiocarbon dating laboratory of the Institute, is the only such national facility in the country. With the newly widened research mandate, the Institute has acquired the TL/OSL system useful for precise dating of archaeological artefacts and Quaternary sediments. The IRMS, ICP-MS, GC-MS, XRF systems have recently been added for geochemical analyses, besides the establishment of the palaeomagnetic, and ancient DNA laboratories, FE-SEM., Confocal Laser and Raman spectroscopy. The Institute hosts national/international scientific meets from time to time, and also publishes catalogues, atlases, etc. on special occasions, besides publishing an international journal The Palaeobotanist.
The Institute, now rechristened as the Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences, is presently functioning as an autonomous research organization under the aegis of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India.