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Dinosaur Footprints Set to Tour NZ

Dinosaur Footprints Set to Tour NZ

Sophie Thomson, 11, with some of the 70 millon-year-old dinosaur footprints discovered on a coastal stretch northwest of Nelson.

An exhibition of 70-million-year-old dinosaur footprints found near Nelson starts a two-year tour of New Zealand museums next month.

Dinosaur Footprints: A Story of Discovery, features four footprints discovered in Late Cretaceous coastal sandstone rocks northwest of Nelson. They are the first dinosaur footprints ever found in New Zealand, and the first evidence of dinosaurs found in the South Island.

They were discovered by GNS Science geologist, Greg Browne, who worked through a process of elimination to conclude that the marks were made by dinosaurs.

“While geologists know that dinosaurs were present in ancient New Zealand, the record of their presence is very sketchy,” Dr Browne said. Dinosaur bones have been found at only three locations so far – northern Hawke’s Bay, Port Waikato, and the Chatham Islands.

The touring exhibition consists of two triangular display modules with built-in lighting, with footprints left by dinosaurs a major focal point. It has two AV presentations and visitors can also touch replicas of the actual footprints. The largest of the replicas is about 30cm in diameter.

The roughly circular footprints have been found at six locations stretching over 10km of northwest Nelson coastline.

After opening at Auckland War Memorial Museum on June 13, the exhibition will tour about 10 New Zealand venues through until 2016.

Dr Browne spent several years wondering what kind of animal might have made the marks. He concluded they were made by sauropods, a plant eating dinosaur and the largest animal that ever walked on Earth.

Some sauropod species grew to more than 40 meters in length and weighed over 100 tonnes.

“Based on the record of birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles from the Late Cretaceous period, dinosaurs were the only animal of sufficient size and weight that could have made these imprints,” Dr Browne said.

Visitors will also see a striking enlargement of an original New Zealand watercolour of the sauropods on a beach, by noted freelance illustrator and author Dave Gunson.

The illustration depicts a pair of titanosaurs roaming across a tidal inlet about 70 million years ago – the moment in time when the footprints were formed.

The exhibition has been made possible by the support of New Zealand Oil & Gas who are keen to see science promoted in the community. New Zealand Oil & Gas liked the fact that a New Zealand geologist discovered the footprints almost by accident while engaged in geological survey work.

Tour itinerary currently includes these venues, with more to be added:

Auckland War Memorial Museum: opens Friday 13 June – 27 July 2014

Rotorua Museum: 6 September - 12 October 2014

NZ National Aquarium, Napier: Labour Weekend 2014 - 11 January 2015

Puke Ariki, New Plymouth: 17 January - 22 March 2015

Nelson Provincial Museum: July - September 2015


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