Dino Fossils Found on Remote South Pacific Island

Sean Markey in Takaka, New Zealand
for National Geographic News
April 3, 2006

Researchers have unearthed a rare cache of dinosaur bones and other fossils on a remote South Pacific island 500 miles (860 kilometers) off the New Zealand coast.

"We know now … that dinosaurs were inhabiting really the most isolated regions of the Southern Hemisphere," said Jeffrey Stilwell, a paleontologist at Monash University in Victoria, Australia.

Stilwell's team dug up the remains on Chatham Island (population 695), a well-known source of fossil shark teeth. The locale is only the second in New Zealand (map) to yield proof of terrestrial dinosaurs.

The 65- to 70-million-year-old fossils include a tiny claw and finger, spinal, foot, and leg bones from an unknown variety of two-legged meat-eaters known as theropods.

Among the finds was a large toe bone 7 inches (18.5 centimeters) long and 4 inches (10 centimeters) wide. Its size and other clues suggest it belonged to a large theropod some 26 to 33 feet (8 to 10 meters) long.

"We're hoping to find more fossils to really find out … some more specifics about what [plant and animal] species lived there," Stilwell said.

Ancient Lagoon

His team excavated the remains in 2003 from a mile-long (two-kilometer-long) sandstone fossil deposit eroded by ocean waves.

The beachfront site contains a "treasure trove" of terrestrial and marine fossils, Stilwell said.

The remains include the bones of dinosaurs, birds, and large marine reptiles such as mosasaurs and elasmosaurs, as well as fossilized sponges, mollusks, pine cones, and diverse fish teeth.

Stilwell said finding a new dinosaur cache in a remote area of the Southern Hemisphere "is rare for paleontology and fossil research."

Funded in part by the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration, the researcher has since returned to Chatham Island, most recently in February.

Continued on Next Page >>




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