Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Picturing Ancient New Zealand - using clues from science

In conjuring up an image (in words and pictures) of Ancient New Zealand in From Moa to Dinosaurs, we used scientific clues as the basis of each double-page spread. Check out the "How do we know?" boxes in the book to find out what clues we used.
Pages 12 and 13, illustration by Ned Barraud

The pages in the illustration above describe New Zealand 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. Long before people arrived here. The mountains were formed through tectonic plates pushing against each other, starting about 5 million years ago, then came the ice ages. On this page the text sets the scene "Icy glaciers were shrinking after an ice age 20,000 years ago came to an end. As the ice retreated, grass and scrub grew, covering the mountainous area above the edge of the forest."

How did we know what animals to depict on these pages?

When I was researching for the book, I remembered a visit many years ago to the Ngarua Caves near Nelson. It was fascinating (and rather sad) to see moa remains from moa that had fallen down into these caves and been unable to escape.  I began my research and found that limestone caves like these are a great source of clues to what animals lived in these regions.

Limestone caves near Waitomo

Sinkholes or 'tomo' form in limestone landscapes when water carves out caves and part of the cave roof collapses to form a hole. Moa fell down these tomo and then were trapped, perhaps they were running away from a Haast's giant eagle such as the one in the illustration and perhaps the eagle fell with it.

Apart from moa and eagle, other animals fell down too. In Fossils of Honeycomb Hill, author and scientist Trevor Worthy lists the extraordinary number of species found and describes what these tell us about which animals lived here. The animals included: kea, takahe, upland moa, stout-legged wren, South Island goose, Haast's eagle, which are all pictured in the book illustration above. Each was picked for the story they tell. Children can read more about the moa and eagle on the following pages. The geese and wren show that it is not just the more famous birds that are extinct, that in fact there were many more birds of which little is known.

The moa, eagle, stout-legged wren and geese are extinct, but takahe and kea are still hanging on in the mountains. I hope that children will come to realise, if they don't already, how precious these serving species are to us, and that it is vital that takahe and kea don't join these other species in extinction.

Places to visit
Limestone caves and tomo in the South Island: 
Ngarua caves - http://www.ngaruacaves.co.nz
Oparara caves - http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/toyota-kiwi-guardians/sites/kiwi-guardians-around-westport/oparara-basin/
Takaka Hill tomo - https://www.geocaching.com/geocache/GC2KMGW_takaka-hill-tomo-earthcache?guid=3f6570c3-e298-4738-979b-d080717bbf1a
Limestone caves and tomo in the North Island:
Waitomo caves - http://www.waitomocaves.com
A replica tomo with moa bones is in the outside bush area of Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington - https://www.tepapa.govt.nz/visit/whats-on/exhibitions/bush-city

Related blogs
Back in Time to Ancient Zealandia - https://explorediscovernature.blogspot.co.nz/2017/03/back-in-time-to-ancient-zealandia-from.html

Books for adults that kids might also enjoy, especially the illustrations, unfortunately both are out of print but should still be in most libraries
Extinct Birds of New Zealand by Alan Tennyson and Paul Martinson
The Lost World of the Moa by Trevor Worthy and Richard Holdaway