Te Papa: new zealand DINOSAURS!!!

Location: Te Papa Museum
Gallery: Geology

alright so after a few go throughs of te papa, due to its crazy confusing interior, i finally found the display of displays in new zealand!!! ... as a quick side note it took me forever to find it. i missed the tiny entrance to the hall 4 times in a row!!!. this was the thing i wanted to see the most (other than the flax baskets i'm carrying disappearing anyway), and due to the te papa's labyrinth like interior i nearly missed it all together... anyways what was i saying again?

oh yeah! the display of displays in new zealand...

new zealand's dinosaurs!!!

now before you get overly excited people of the innerweb i need to warn you as cool as we dinosaurs can be in a museum this wasn't the most spectacular dinosaur display i'd ever seen...

remember i moved to the south island of new zealand due to its lack of dinosaurs. both fossil and or those surviving into the present. though the north island has produced a few dinosaurs i won't say their exactly in a position to make me look pathetic in comparison (unlike the bigger not stunted in growth dinos of canada!)...

you see all the dinosaurs of new zealand fit into a SINGLE display case! now looking at this picture you might think they at least have one big fancy skull. not exactly, that's a marine reptile skull. they've got plenty of great marine reptiles (though my museum has the best in the country!!!), but dinosaurs they, well, come up a little short...

you see those three single bones just behind the glint at the bottom of the photo (sorry about that. te papa has very un photo friendly lighting)... those are HALF of new zealand's dinosaur bones right there, and to be honest their probably the most impressive of the lot!!!

i wouldn't see ALL of new zealand's dinosaurs till much later in my museum quest across new zealand, but this was my first taste of my kinds kiwi heritage. which can only be relayed to you one way...

alright so despite the fact this Palaeo FACT! (TM ;p) is about three totally different dinosaurs i've combined them into one fact, because despite their differences they have one thing in common...

we know next to nothing about them other than they were dinosaurs, and they lived in new zealand...

you see here in this much better photo the remains. this is it people of the innerweb... te papa, the crown of new zealand museum's has exactly three bones (representing just over half of NZ's total dinosaur types!)...

a quick side note these were the actual bones from what i could tell, and not casts...

each bone is the only fossil representative of its owner known. no other bones of any of these animals were discovered articulated or otherwise (articulated being a fancy term for bones fitting together as they were in the skeleton when the animal was alive).

this means that little can be told about these animals or what prehistoric new zealand was like on the land. yet despite this they were still a huge find as up until their discovery in the late 1970's it was thought that new zealand didn't have any dinosaurs due to the countries landmass mostly being underwater (i'll be doing a PALAEO Fact post on new zealand's geology and history later). these dinosaur's discovery not only changed that view, but also gives us the knowledge that despite their being no details known there is a ton we need to look for and find!

so though i have no specifics to relay to you, due again to their not being findable at moment, here's the general new zealand dinosaur types on display at te papa (Production Note: Stay tuned to The Tyrannosaur Chronicles as there's a follow up coming on the rest of NZ's dinos once Traum gets to the Auckland museum which had casts of ALL NZ's dinosaur bones!).

all the dinosaurs at te papa were found on mainland new zealand at the same site in the hawkes bay region (the mangahouanga stream for you real keeners out there ;p ) on the north island. more dinosaur remains have been found on the kiwi owned chatham islands, but these bones are currently being held at an australian museum.

they are all from the late cretaceous period, though an exact date hasn't been determined yet, somewhere between 83 and 65 million years ago (or for you technical innerwebbers somewhere in the campanian or maastrichtian stages). this means that they are among the last of the dinosaurs to exist (not necessarily the last of the LAST mind you, but just the last if you look at the overall 150 MILLION year run we dinosaurs had on earth!!!).

among these are were a:

Large Theropod

(Production Note: Art by Peter Bond)

new zealand's first confirmed dinosaur type was definitely a larger theropod (that's sciency for meat eating dinosaur). however as it known from only a single toe bone... which when i looked it up in a book was a phalanx of the pedal digit III. due to my brain being so small i understood the toe bone part!... we can't really for sure what kind of theropod for sure...

comparison of this toe with that of other meating dinosaurs tells us this one was likely 11-12 metres long.

a lot of guesses have been thrown around though as to what type of theropod it was. immediately due to the features of the toe, and the fact it is from the far southern hemisphere, it was almost certainly not one of my relatives the coelurosaurs.

due to similarities between it and the toes of the famous allosaurus some have claimed it is from a long surviving member of this otherwise extinct, by the cretaceous, theropod group (a similar bone in australia gets the same thing said about it).

a lot of the books i got out of the library refer to it as a megalosaur. these books are a little old now though, and i read on some of the awesome blogs out there like raptor's nest that the megalosaurs aren't such a good way to classify primitive theropods anymore. that and most "megalosaurs" lived in the jurassic which was way before the late cretaceous it is really not likely any of them would have survived unevolved that long.

instead, and i'm just using what i know people of the web wide world to suggest this, which to be fair is from a peanut sized brain... this could make it either a carcharodontosaurid or a abelisaurid. both of these were definitely existing types of theropods that late into the cretaceous, close relatives and decedents of the older book's proposed relatives (and i note not as understood families when the books were written), and most important the dominant theropods throughout the rest of the prehistorically known southern hemisphere at that time!


(Production Note: Art by Peter Bond)

known from only a fragment of a rib. the 40 cm piece probably came from a metre long bone, but due to this being the middle chunk all the important identifying characters on either end are missing to compare it to known sauropod groups. scientists estimate based on this metre long rib it was an animal 10-12 metres long, but this is just a guess based on the tiny snapshot of the animal.

based on what we know of late cretaceous sauropods this means it would have to be a titanosaur. this fits as my books again written a while ago refer to it as either a brachiosaurid or camarosaurid which we now know were ancestors of the titanosaurs...

Medium Theropod

(Production Note: Art by Peter Bond)

a broken tail vertebrae is the last of te papa's dinosaur fossils. this is believed to be from a 4 metre long theropod, but because it is so broken it can't be completely ruled out as a ornithopod.

now the reason for the awesome dromaeosaur (a close relative of mine!) drawing is that an articulated dromaeosaur hand was found in "new zealand", but it was found on one of the chatham islands... researching further i discovered the chatham islands' dinosaurs not being on display in new zealand. so sadly my rather talented himself talent agent peter bond drew this guy for me sort of for nothing on this post as i mistaken thought this vertabrae was from it (don't i have the best agent or what?!?). on the bright side due to the bad shape this bone is in no one can say it definitely wasn't a raptor either.

(Production Note:

Traum's References:

Te Papa display information.

Dinosaurs of Australia and New Zealand, and Other Animals of the Mesozoic by John A. Long. 1998

Prehistoric Animals of New Zealand by Geoffrey J. Cox. 1991

Prehistoric New Zealand by Graeme Stevens. 1988

A lot of initial background information and research was from a number less technical popular books. These were found to have gathered most of their information from Geoffrey Cox's book

okay so WHY is new zealand's dinosaur record so poor?

a lot of it has to do with the overall geologic history of the country which i haven't finished wrapping my brain around, but i promise to get a Palaeo FACT up for soon.

looking at the one site that has so far actually produced dinosaurs (again the only one on mainland new zealand to do so!) we get an immediate answer...

the reason the bones are both isolated and mostly in bad shape is due to the environment they were being deposited and fossilized in!

this prognathodon overtoni , mosasaur skull is one of many marine reptiles found at the same site as the dinosaur bones. that's the clue... before i tell you the answer to what the environment was (i'm sure you've guessed it by now) i promise that very soon i'll be doing a good overview of new zealand's marine reptiles due to the recent events going on in my life in the post museum quest era...

the mosasaur skull along with the other many marine reptiles tell us right away that this site is an old marine environment. confirming this guess you no doubt made people of the innerweb, is the fact the rock their found in is all oceanic sediment.

so yup that's right, the only dinosaurs we have gotten from new zealand were those pieces of them that washed out into the ocean from the land... meaning that they were moved a long way from where they first came from, and probably took a bit of time to do so...

this explains why these bones are by themselves without the rest of their owner around, and in such bad shape. more to the point it tells us not to expect any good articulated (all together) skeletons to be found here. it is very unlikely a whole dinosaur body would wash out to sea without being toren to pieces and decomposed by both the elements and predators of the water.

(Production Note:

Traum's References

Dinosaurs of Australia and New Zealand, and Other Animals of the Mesozoic by John A. Long. 1998

Prehistoric New Zealand by Graeme Stevens. 1988)

on the other side of the small mesezoic display case is another amazing piece of new zealand's prehistory. if you ask me, one that is just a "little' astounding to be here considering how few dinosaur fossils made it though deep time...

it's just a simple bit of bone (i'm next to certain this was the real bone and not a cast on display)...

this little 10 cm piece of bone represents a new zealand pterosaur...

i'm impressed and surprised that this bone is here... pterosaurs are a lot lighter built than dinosaurs, and thus their bones are a lot more fragile and less likely to survive the processes of fossilization.

in fossil rich alberta there's only a few fragments (of about the same size as this piece) that confirm we had pterosaurs, and their rare as. this new zealand chunk is one of TWO found at hawkes bay!!! granted as fossils are easier to form where there's more water it makes some sense why hawkes bay is more likely to perserve pterosaurs than say dinosaur provincal park. in any case it's a big deal to have ANY remains of pterosaurs!

this piece here is a partial scapula or shoulder bone. based on its features palaeontologists believe it to represent an anhanguerid.

which funny enough looks a little like the nice sculptor directly above the display case. of course this is not for sure what this type of new zealand flying reptile looked like. rather it's the best guess. based on what little we now about them. just like the dinosaurs of new zealand.

so what i have to say about new zealand's land based mesezoic world is that overall we need more bones, and better yet bone bearing sites, to be found and help us better flesh out our understanding of prehistoric new zealand...

at the same time i can personally wait for that to happen. compared to these kiwi dinosaurs even a pygmy t-rex like me is the only dinosaur game in town! i can handle that being the case a bit longer ;p

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