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Scientists and Tuhoe to hunt dinosaur fossils in the Urewera range
5 July 2016

The mighty T-rex may have roamed the Urewera range long before Tuhoe – and a new project hopes to determine the truth.

Remains of carnivorous dinosaurs related to T-rex have been found in the area in the past 50 years, palaeontologist James Crampton said.

Late amateur palaeontologist Joan Wiffen discovered a toe bone and a back bone from theropod dinosaurs – smaller cousins of the tyrannosaurus – in the Urewera range, in discoveries believed to date back to the 1970’s.

“We know their relatives, theropods, were there and there may have been bigger ones,” Crampton, a GNS Science and Victoria University palaeontologist said.

“Undoubtedly there is more to be discovered.”

Crampton and GNS scientist John Begg are working with Tuhoe on a two-year project to search for fossil remains in streams that flow through Urewera.

The project recently secured $100,000 in government funding over two years, Crampton said.

Tuhoe were keen to better understand the pre-history of their homeland, Te Uru Taumatua trust said. “The possibility of dinosaur fossils in Te Urewera is of great interest to Tuhoe.”

The iwi will learn about preparation of fossils and preliminary scientific study of important specimens, as well as how to search for fossil deposits into the future.

Geological mapping by GNS shows Maungataniwha sandstone, deposited 85 million years ago, is present over large areas of the remote ranges and valleys of Te Urewera.

It’s in this formation that Wiffen made her terrestrial fossil bone discoveries, just outside the southern Te Urewera boundary.

She also found extensive evidence of prehistoric marine reptiles including the elasmosaur and mosasaur, early predators of the deep.

It was important the natural environment be disturbed as little as possible, Crampton said.

“We have a rock hammer and we stand in the stream and roll over boulders. It’s very low-tech.”

The partners will work together to deliver their findings into museum or visitor centre displays, and where specimens may be kept, such as Te Papa or GNS Science.

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