Tuhoe ready to go dinosaur-hunting

The foot of a Titanosaur (Getty)
The foot of a Titanosaur (Getty)

Kiwi palaeontologists have formed an unlikely partnership with the Tuhoe iwi to go digging for dinosaurs in Te Urewera.

The ranges are difficult terrain to go digging for bones, so GNS and Victoria University have enlisted the locals to find out what roamed the ranges long before Tuhoe arrived.

"They're leading the project," palaeontologist James Crampton told Paul Henry on Thursday. "They will be making sure we get in there and get out - it's really difficult country to work in."

New Zealand's Mesozoic past is largely a mystery to science.

"The little we know of New Zealand dinosaurs mainly comes from the amateur Joan Whitten," says Dr Crampton.

"The fossils she found came from a small area south of Te Urewera, but we know that the same rocks that she was exploring go right up through the Te Urewera ranges and the gorges and the forest. There's a huge area of the same rock layer going north, so we want to go and explore."

They'll be focusing on rocks and fossils about 85 million years old - too old for Tyrannosaurus rex, but we're on the wrong side of the world for those anyway.

"We're not going to find a T rex skull, but we know the two-legged carnivorous dinosaurs were here, and [we hope to find] something along those lines. I don't know what we're going to find. We probably won't find a lot, but it would be nice to think we'll find something. It's real blue-skies exploration."

He says Tuhoe are keen to learn about the pre-history of their land.

"They have a very deep connection to that land, and they're really interested to know more about it."

And the "townie" palaeontologists will be relying Tuhoe's skills and strength to uncover Te Urewera's ancient secrets.

"It's a manpower thing. You literally walk up stream beds, turning over boulders looking for bones," says Dr Crampton.

The hunt will last two years, with most of it happening in the summer, when the weather's better and the days are longer.