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Thursday, 25 February 2010

Turning over an old leaf with the Fossil Hunter's Handbook

If you are reading this blog, you presumably like the idea of getting outside and appreciating the landscape and its underlying geological features. James Crampton and Marianna Terezow are paleontologists here at GNS Science. They have just published a great book for fossil enthusiasts called the Kiwi Fossil Hunter's Handbook. It is full of interesting information and highlights a number of prime localities around the country for unearthing nice fossil specimens.





After a conversation with James,, and armed with information from one of the chapters in the book, I recently visited a fossil locality near Murchison in the South Island. About 6.5 kms north of Longford on the main State Highway 6, there is a sign indicating Nuggety Creek Road.
A few hundred metres along the track there are some crumbling cliffs by the roadside. This is a fantastic place to collect fossil leaves from the Miocene (about 16 - 13 million years old). They were deposited in a river valley that was surrounded by a rainforest.





Boulders at the foot of the cliff are absolutely packed with leaves of different plants. There were large trees here as well as smaller plants such as ferns living beneath them. The rock is quite crumbly, so it can take a while to find a lump that is solid enough to stay in one piece.




These fossils are evidence that the climate in New Zealand in Miocene times was very humid and warmer than at present.
As you can see from the last photo, some of the fossil leaves are superficially very similar in appearence to modern leaves found at the same locality today.



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