A grey lump the size of a rugby ball, found sticking out of the bank of a Hawke's Bay stream, is proof that one of the biggest dinosaurs once roamed New Zealand.
The fossilised bone, found by veteran fossil-hunter Joan Wiffen in 1999, has been identified as a vertebra from a titanosaurid, one of the largest known dinosaur species. Titanosaurids lived during the Cretaceous period, between 83 and 65 million years ago. They were up to 45 metres in length and weighed up to 50 tonnes.
The identification is expected to spark global interest.
"I saw a partly exposed concretion about the size of a rugby ball in the stream bank," Dr Wiffen said yesterday. "I dug it out and asked a colleague to break it open with a hammer. I saw a bone structure inside that looked different from the bone of a marine reptile.
" It's heavily eroded because it must have been transported in a riverbed for some time before it was buried."
GNS Science palaeontologist Hamish Campbell said the find was immensely exciting.
"It's the first evidence of this type of dinosaur in New Zealand. It shows we once had the full range of dinosaurs."
Scientists could identify the species, but could not yet say exactly what type of dinosaur it was.
"It's like saying we know it's a Toyota car, but we don't know if it's a Corona," Dr Campbell said.
The fossil is estimated to be 80 million years old, meaning the dinosaur was alive after what is now New Zealand split from Gondwanaland 83 million years ago.
Palaeontology technician Marianna Terezow said the find would be displayed in the GNS Science foyer by the end of the year.
Dr Wiffen, 86, found the fossil nine years ago, but it has only now been positively identified by international palaeontologists.
LAND OF GIANTS
* Evidence of seven dinosaur species has now been found in New Zealand. They include meat-eaters, herbivores and marine reptiles.
* Joan Wiffen discovered our first dinosaur fossils in 1974.
* Titanosaurids were plant-eating dinosaurs with very long necks and tails, massive bodies and huge legs. They were 45 metres long – the length of nine cars – more than 10 metres tall and weighed up to 50 tonnes.
* Titanosaurid fossils have also been found in South America and North Africa and Australia.
- © Fairfax NZ News