Time Travel…

Tooth of the Carcharodon megolodon, a giant shark, over 1 million years. Found near Pipiriki

Tooth of the Carcharodon megolodon, a giant shark, over 1 million years. Found near Pipiriki

An assignment with the geology collection in the Whanganui Regional Museum has given local teacher Keith Beautrais a walk through time that goes back even beyond the formation of our planet.

The Mokoia Meteorite, dated at over 4.5 billion years

The Mokoia Meteorite, dated at over 4.5 billion years

Ichthyosaur teeth from the Mesozoic period 252-66 million years

Ichthyosaur teeth from the Mesozoic period 252-66 million years

“This has already been a mind-expanding experience; to work with an amazing collection, and with scientists engaged in cutting-edge research”, Keith commented.

 

 

As part of a science-teacher fellowship run by the Royal Society of New Zealand the Wanganui Intermediate specialist has been sorting through the Museum’s collection of rocks and fossils, discovering just how much material there is.

Three lumbar vertebrae of a Dolphin, likely over 3.5 million years

Three lumbar vertebrae of a Dolphin, likely over 3.5 million years

Ammonite, relative of the Nautilus

Ammonite, relative of the Nautilus

Some of the specimens are 100-year-old rock samples acquired as teaching tools. Others are local fossils collected by palaeontologists or amateur rock hounds. Some have data on where and when they were collected, and most importantly, which rock stratum they came from; others have no label at all and will take some detective work to identify. Keith will be helping to register, photograph and rehouse the very best of our specimens in archival boxes while he is at the Musuem and will, no doubt, uncover some overlooked treasures too.

Phialopecten triphooki, ancestor of the scallop, 3 million years

Phialopecten triphooki, ancestor of the scallop, 3 million years

Because the Museum was without a curator of natural history for many decades, it has relied on sharp-eyed members of the public for specimens. If someone finds an interesting fossil, it is important to note down not just the time and place, but its exact location, even getting the latitude and longitude from Google Maps, including where exactly on the cliff face or stream bed it was found. A photo or sketch can also help. In 50 years’ time, after all, someone might want to find the exact spot and look for more. The all-important label needs to go in a plastic bag with the fossil; if they become separated, the specimen loses all its data and most of its value to researchers.

Teeth of a Pilot Whale, from Kakatahi

Teeth of a Pilot Whale, from Kakatahi

Well over a century of collection and donation has amassed a geology collection that can help young and old appreciate the deep time in evidence around us. Geologists call most of our local fossils “young” because three million years is only 5% of the time since dinosaurs died out. One thing these silent witnesses to our turbulent past remind us of is that, from the perspective of a million years ago, our daily priorities seem very short-term.

Dolphin skull from the Pliocene 5-2.5 million years, collected near Hawera

Dolphin skull from the Pliocene 5-2.5 million years, collected near Hawera

Mike Dickison, Curator of Natural History

With help from Keith Beautrais

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