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Ancient New Zealand: Squawkzilla and the Giants opens to the public on Friday.
Visitors can see many of the fossils uncovered in the last two decades, which palaeontologists are using to piece together New Zealand’s ancient past.
Museum scientists have been working with staff at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Flinders University (Adelaide), the University of New South Wales (Sydney) and the Senckenberg Natural History Museum (Frankfurt, Germany) to reveal some of the strange beasts that lived millions of years ago in New Zealand.
Near Waipara, North Canterbury, for example, palaeontologists found fossils from more than 60 million years ago which show giant penguins swam in the warm oceans around the ancient subcontinent of Zealandia.
Canterbury Museum staff members Paul Scofield and Vanesa De Pietri have made major contributions to this work, along with Leigh Love, an amateur palaeontologist who lives in Waipara, and fossil preparator Al Mannering, of Christchurch.
Three recent discoveries – Squawkzilla the giant parrot (Heracles inexpecatus), a human-sized Waipara penguin (Crossvallia waiparensis) and a seabird with teeth (Protodontopterx ruthae) – made headlines around the world earlier this year.
Squawkzilla and the Giants will present the results of this research through life-sized models of the giant birds, real fossils and illustrations.
The fossils of the ancient bird species are displayed alongside specimens of their modern relatives from the museum’s collection.
Museum director Anthony Wright says Squawkzilla and the Giants is set to be a summer blockbuster.
“We think visitors will be blown away when they see the life-size models of the penguins, the parrot and the crocodile," he said.
"While the exhibition will be entertaining, it’s grounded in science and we hope people will come away having learnt a little more about the ancient past of Aotearoa New Zealand.
“For the museum this is a very special exhibition, as it’s the culmination of 20 years’ research by museum curators, collaborating with colleagues in other institutions. Their research continues to have a significant impact on global understanding of how birds – particularly seabirds – evolved across the planet.”
The museum has also created a set of cards to collect, featuring extinct animals from the exhibition, which will be released over the course of the exhibition.
Visitors can collect a pack of the cards after completing an activity sheet with questions about the exhibition.
Ancient New Zealand: Squawkzilla and the Giants runs from December 13 to July 19.