Normally fossils are found in the field but in this case Te Papa technicians and I have been rediscovering an early accumulation of fossil reptiles and fish held in Te Papa’s collections that have not been examined for decades.
When the Colonial Museum opened in 1865, the Director James Hector, wanted to show New Zealanders natural wonders from around the world, so he set about acquiring all sorts of natural history objects from museums in other countries. Some spectacular fossils were among his acquisitions and Te Papa still has these today.
The fossils that we have now registered and re-housed include skulls and teeth of long extinct reptiles – ichthyosaurs (“fish lizards”) and plesiosaurs (think Loch Ness Monster) – as well as remains of ancient fish – particularly shark’s teeth.
Dozens of the ichthyosaur, plesiosaur and fish remains originate from the Jurassic Lyme Regis fossil beds in Dorset, England. This site is one of the most famous fossil localities in the world because the giant reptile remains found here in the early 1800s, most famously by Mary Anning, were clearly of extinct species – yet at the time the concept of extinction was virtually unheard of. Dinosaurs, for example, were only discovered later. Te Papa’s fossil reptile and fish collection also includes more recently acquired specimens, such as dinosaur footprint casts from North America, dinosaur eggs and fragments of a 19 million year old ancestral tuatara from Central Otago.
Te Papa’s Natural Environment Imaging Supervisor Jean-Claude Stahl has been photographing many of these fossils and examples of them are shown here. Many others can be accessed through Te Papa’s Collections On-line browser.
Posted by Alan Tennyson, Curator of Fossil Vertebrates