The fossil of a squid-like creature wiped out with the
dinosaurs has been discovered in a Hawkes Bay streambed.
The surprise find of the ammonite fossil -- found contained
in a 50kg boulder in the Waiau River -- has excited
scientists about what other specimens may lay hidden in New
Zealand's under-explored wilderness.
The uncovered ammonite, which lived in the sea during the
time of the dinosaurs, had a flat spiral shell that looked
something like a Paper Nautilus but was between 80cm and 90cm
in diameter -- large compared to most other ammonites.
The species belonged to a group of predators known as
cephalopods, whose living relatives include the octopus and
Its shell was coiled like a snail's and comprised a series of
water-tight compartments that enabled it to float and swim in
the upper layers of the sea.
Scientists say the new fossil is significant not just because
of its size -- most found in that part of New Zealand are
just a few centimetres in diameter -- but also because of its
It was found in strata created 85 million years ago, making
it one of the youngest fossilised ammonites found here.
Although found relatively frequently elsewhere, ammonite
fossils are rare in New Zealand, for reasons not yet
"We don't have a significant record of these creatures in New
Zealand so this find adds considerably to what we know about
New Zealand paleontological history and about what was living
here at that time," said GNS paleontologist Dr James
Crampton, who found the fossil with collections manager John
Simes during a "rock kicking" walk up the river.
"It may help us understand more about why ammonites were so
seemingly rare here when they appear to have been so common
in other places.
"Even back then, it would seem, there was something unusual
about New Zealand's marine environment."
The find demonstrates just how much more there was to be
discovered in New Zealand's rich but under-explored fossil
record, large parts of which were tucked away in
inaccessible, moss-hung and waterfall-blocked streams in our
The river where the fossil was found borders the
Maungataniwha Native Forest, near where celebrated New
Zealand paleontologist Joan Wiffen first discovered evidence
of land-dinosaur fossils in New Zealand.
At the time the ammonite existed, New Zealand had already
been torn away from the super-continent Gondwanaland in much
the same way as California was being wrenched from the North
American continent today by the San Andreas fault.
Not long afterwards, a giant asteroid hit Earth and
ammonites, along with dinosaurs, became extinct.
Dr Crampton said the Waiau River bed was particularly
important to paleontologists because it had carved its way
through a succession of geological layers.
"Walking along the Waiau is like walking back in time," he
"In geological terms it takes us deeper and deeper below the
earth's surface without us having to dig an inch."
It was likely that the area held a wealth of secrets that
could one day unlock the answers to a wide array of questions
that science still has.
"If we can wander randomly up a stream-bed and pick up a
fossil of this significance, in the same way as Joan Wiffen
did all those years before us, imagine what we'll unearth
when we really start looking."
The GNS team will attempt to remove the entire fossil from
the 50kg boulder it was contained within, with the aim of
displaying it at its offices in Lower Hutt.
- Jamie Morton of the NZ Herald