3 Apr 2014

Dinosaur Fossil Hunt

From Our Changing World, 9:46 pm on 3 April 2014


Lunch spot in a dinosaur forest: Palaeontologists John Simes and James Crampton and land manager Pete Shaw take a break from the hard work involved in hunting for fossil bones. (images: V Meduna)

Joan Wiffen, a self-taught fossil hunter, discovered  New Zealand’s first dinosaur fossil during the 1970s. It turned out to be a tail vertebra of a theropod dinosaur, but it was only the first of many fossil bones Joan and her team of helpers unearthed from the stream beds of Hawke’s Bay. Over the years, at least six different species of these land-dwelling giants were identified, including a titanosaur, one of the largest plant-eating sauropods, which was widespread globally during the Cretaceous period, between 83 and 65 million years ago.

A large concretion found in the Maungataniwha forest, including a fossil boneHowever, due to New Zealand’s geology, most fossil bones found in this area that date back to the age of the dinosaurs are not from terrestrial species but belong to giant marine reptiles such as mosasaurs.

The Hawke’s Bay streams Joan Wiffen explored still contain many fossil-bearing rocks, and in this feature, Veronika Meduna joins GNS Science palaeontologists James Crampton and John Simes on a fieldtrip to explore some smaller tributaries and creeks in the Maungataniwha native forest. After the first day in the field, they return with a large boulder that includes a fossil bone as well as a well preserved specimen of fossil teeth.

The land is now owned by the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust, and land manager Pete Shaw divides his time between restoring the area's flora and fauna and hunting for dinosaur fossils.

Pete Shaw (in the background) manages the ecological restoration of the Maungataniwha forests for the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust, but he has also developed a passion for fossil huntig and has found many fossil bearing rocks that date back to the age of the dinosaurs. (image: V Meduna)