History of Palaeontology in Thailand (previously Siam)

The first fossil vertebrate to be described in mainland South East Asia was an upper Permian Dicynodon cranium in the Siamese (Thai) vassal state of northern Laos when that area had just been annexed by France (Counillon,1896). The first dinosaurs were found in the 1930s just across the border in Savannakhet province (also previously Siamese territory) in Laos by the French geologist Josué-Heilman Hoffet. Fossil specimens were collected in Thailand in the early part of the 20th Century. For instance, the British palaeontologist Cowper Reed described Carboniferous invertebrates from southern Thailand in 1920 and fusulinids were described by Carl Dunbar on material collected by geologists A. Heim and H. Hirschi in 1939. Many invertebrate and plant specimens were collected and described by Japanese palaeontologists from 1941 onwards and results published in the multi-volume work Geology and Palaeontology of South East Asia. However, it was not until the 1980s that teams of European, American, Japanese, Chinese, New Zealand and Australian palaeontologists with Thai colleagues collected stratigraphically and palaeoenvironmentally controlled plant, invertebrate and vertebrate specimens from all corners of the kingdom. Since then a large number of important discoveries have been made and significant papers published on Thai dinosaurs, turtles, fish, primates, mammals, conodonts, radiolarians, foraminiferans, ostracods, cephalopods, brachiopods, bryozoans, gastropods, sponges, bivalves, microbialites, plants, pollen and corals. The work continues with younger generations of Thai palaeontologists generating important papers on a wide variety of taxa and making frequent new and important discoveries.

National and local Thai governments have recognized the importance of palaeontology to education and tourism by funding museums in many provinces and encouraging the establishment of national and UNESCO recognized geoparks often with fossils being prominently featured. The first UNESCO recognized Geopark in Thailand was recently established in the southern province of Satun based mainly on its rich history of Palaeozoic invertebrates, microbialitic limestones and Quaternary vertebrate fossils. Other geoparks are being established near Khon Kaen in Phetchabun Province (Permian invertebrates and plants and Neogene fish and rhinoceratids) and in Nakhon Ratchasima Province (Khorat), (Neogene vertebrates and plants and Mesozoic dinosaurs).