Dinosaur footprints found in Nelson (+video)

Dinosaur footprints have been discovered by scientists in Nelson.

The 70 million-year-old footprints are the first dinosaur footprints recognised in New Zealand and the first evidence of dinosaurs in the South Island.

Geologist Greg Browne of GNS Science, found the prints while investigating rock and sediment formations near the Whanganui inlet. They are at six locations over an area of about 10 kilometres. At one location there are up to 20 footprints.

The depressions are roughly circular, with the largest about 60cm in diameter.

Most are smaller, typically between 10 and 20cm in diameter and were probably formed by dinosaurs of between two and six metres in length and weighing several tonnes.

Dr Browne believes the markings were made by sauropods, which were large herbivorous dinosaurs with long necks and tails and pillar-like legs. The prints were made in beach sands and were probably quickly covered and preserved by mud from subsequent tides.

What makes this discovery special is the unique preservation of the footprints in an environment where they could easily have been destroyed by waves, tides, or wind.

Northwest Nelson was largely submerged under the sea between 70 and 20 million years ago and the footprints would have been covered by hundreds of metres of marine sediments.

With the development of the modern plate boundary, New Zealand was uplifted and northwest Nelson emerged from the sea. During the past 20 million years, the overlying sedimentary rock has been eroded away to expose the footprints again.

While paleontologists know that dinosaurs were present in ancient New Zealand, the record of their presence is very sketchy.

Dinosaur bones have been discovered in northern Hawkes Bay, Port Waikato and the Chatham Islands.

Dr Browne said the footprints added useful information about how dinosaurs moved, how fast they moved and how big they were, as well as how soft the sediment was when they moved through the area.

"This discovery opens the way for further study on a range of dinosaur-related issues in New Zealand."

The discovery will be published in the New Zealand Journal of Geology & Geophysics in December.

Dinosaur footprints in Nelson

- NZPA, NEWSTALK ZB

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