Amkhoi, a village tucked inside a forested zone of Birbhum district in West Bengal, not far from Bolpur (gateway to Shantiniketan and the university founded by Nobel Laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore), was suffering from shortage of water. It was while digging a pond that remains of petrified wood was discovered. Soon experts realised these were remains of trees which existed here 15 million to 20 million years ago.
These were identified as angiosperm (flowering plants) wood. According to the local forest department, a vast deciduous forest along with some evergreen elements existed in this region in the late Miocene period.
As the news of the discovery spread far and wide, illegal fossil hunting began to take place. To prevent the stealing of fossils, the forest department decided to build a park around the findings and develop it as a tourist zone. Today Amkhoi Fossil Park ranks among the leading fossil parks in India (such as Akal Wood Fossil Park in Rajasthan, dinosaur fossil parks in Gujarat, National Fossil Wood Parks in Tamil Nadu, etc.).
At Amkhoi, the fossils are preserved within a landscaped botanical garden. As you enter, you can see the pond from where it all began. A pathway runs through the park with display boards next to the fossils. Some of the fossils found here belong to Dipterocarpaceae, Anacardiaceae, Combretacea and Leguminosae families of plants.
Scientists have also discovered that some trees which have become extinct here are still seen in the Western Ghat region of India as well as in Myanmar and Malaysia. According to researchers, these fossils indicate that vast forests existed in the uplands of Rajmahal Hills and the Chota Nagpur Plateau located to the north west of the present Birbhum district. It has been presumed that the trees were carried by occasional floods and got covered in fine sand and clay, resulting in gradual transformation to fossils.
The park (free entry), which remains open between 10am and 4pm, is also a mini botanical garden and if you are accompanied by kids, you may introduce them to the living trees (all labelled). The park lies on the edge of Illambazar town. Facilities at the park entrance include paid car parking, washrooms and a tea shop. The museum is yet to open.