Palaeontology, or the scientific study of fossils to determine the history of an underlying area, is a fairly new field of research in Universiti Brunei Darussalam. Fossil discovery by Faculty of Science (FOS) researchers have provided new insights of Brunei Darussalam’s biodiversity as far back as 18 million years ago.
The groundbreaking discovery in the field of paleobiodiversity was featured at the recently held Convocation Festival, or Pesta Konvo, from 6th to 22nd October in conjunction with the upcoming Convocation Ceremony. The exhibition showcased some of the fossils found during the researchers’ excavation in some sites around Brunei.
In the last three years, an intensive excavation of fossils took place in several areas in Brunei by the Geology group led by Dr Laszlo Kocsis and Dr Antonino Briguglio. The discoveries include abundant rests of micro- and macro-organisms in a fossil coral reef in Kg Lumapas dating back to 18 million years; a dense shallow water fossil assemblage and even a megalodon tooth in Ambug Hill in Tutong dating back to eight million years; and a number of rocky outcrops where a very diverse fossil leaves and tree trunks remains are preserved dating back to a few million years. Such discoveries suggest that Brunei was perhaps immersed in water millions of years ago and its biodiversity was very abundant also at that time.
Dr Briguglio said the project was aimed at studying the fossil assemblages as they are the primary resources of information to understand the ancient history of Brunei. He emphasised the importance of studying the past to assess the present to try and foresee the future.
“The fossils tell us what the environment was in Brunei millions of years ago and how Brunei changed and evolved during that time. Most of Brunei was, in fact, covered by ocean for most of its life. Nowadays, the remains of marine life can still be observed on the hills,” he said. He added that UBD is particularly involved in this project as it is strictly related to a number of key issues, such as biodiversity and oil and gas.
“Biodiversity is very important. With this project, we can establish Brunei’s history and development through time, with questions such as: since when has Brunei become a hotspot for biodiversity? How long ago were all these species available?” he said.
Dr Briguglio and Dr Kocsis’ synergy and passion for paleontology, combined with interest and cooperation from the Institute of Asian Studies (IAS) and Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS), had enabled the project’s inception that started with their first fossil discovery in Ambug Hill, Tutong two years ago. After funding was approved, the excavators were able to apply to get more support to boost their research and bring it onto international platform.
Dr Kocsis’ expertise lies in geochemistry, where he specialises on the isotopic signature to be observed in the hard shells of the fossils to better understand the past climate and environment. Dr Briguglio, on the other hand, is the biostratigrapher of the project. He studies the fossils and predicts the age of the rocks.
So far, more than five UBD staff and 10 students have been studying the sites for their research thesis. On top of the two aforementioned scientists, there are three fully dedicated MSc students involved, namely, Nurul Amajida Hj Roslim, Sulia Hj Mohd Salim@Sulia Goeting and Nurhazirah Hj Abd Razak.
While the research could potentially unravel discoveries of the evolution of biodiversity in Brunei, the researches faces a big challenge. The most promising location, Ambug Hill, is an active quarry, Dr Briguglio revealed. The entire hill is being destroyed to get building materials, which means acres of precious specimen carrying important information of ancient time Brunei could perish very soon.
“All the fossils will be gone in a few years,” he said. Asking for help to stop this is “a very long procedure”.
The researchers, however, are persistent to save the site. Dr Briguglio revealed that they have submitted their project application to the Brunei Research Council (BRC) and are applying for a Competitive Research Grant (CRG) where three faculties are involved, with the aim of making protected areas in Brunei as heritage sites, where the geology can be easily explained by looking at the rocks and some sites with historical values can be developed and promoted through tourism.
UBD’s research direction is defined by five research thrusts: Biodiversity; Energy; Food Security or Agrotechnology; Asian Studies; and Islamic Banking and Finance. Its transition into a research university catapulted in 2010 with the establishment of several institutions dedicated to research in their respective fields such as Centre for Advanced Materials and Energy Sciences (CAMES), Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Research (IBER) and Institute of Asian Studies (IAS). UBD through the Office of Assistance VIce Chanchellor (Research and Innovation) aims to foster a vibrant research culture and streamline all research activities in the university.
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