Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives

Critically endangered but not lost: the fight to save Te Papa’s collections from extinction

Nic Rawlence Jul 23, 2018

In an unassuming building at the top of Tory Street in Wellington lies buried treasure: the remains of a lost world that rivals Smaug’s hoard, but the equivalent of the five armies is closing in. The proposed restructure of our national museum means we are in danger of losing the key to unlocking the secrets these biological taonga hold. Read More

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Fossil Lucky Dip from a Lost World

Nic Rawlence Jul 10, 2018

I’m lying on a beautiful golden sand beach. The bright sun is beating down upon me. I could be on an isolated, tropical island, if not for the lone giant moa sculpture looming above my head. This sentinel to a lost world stands at the aptly named Old Bones Backpackers at Awamoa, (originally named Te Awa Kōkōmuka), south of Oamaru. Read More

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Back to the Future in Northland: Fossils illuminate a flight path towards ecosystem restoration

Nic Rawlence Apr 18, 2018

Ground control to Major Tom: The otherworldly Herangi Hill at Motu i Pao/Cape Maria van Dieman where Fred found the ancient Moho skull. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Carol. In the pouring rain, surrounded by flowing sand lava and cascading lahars, Fred Brook gingerly walks towards Matt Rayner and me. He’s sliding across a steep sand dune, his hands carefully … Read More

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Through the looking glass: Fossils reveal a Miocene Wonderland at St Bathans

Nic Rawlence Mar 19, 2018

It’s the height of the Central Otago summer – barren, dry and dusty. Driving down the gravel road to St Bathans, we’re travelling back in time, down the rabbit hole to a world long gone. Only ghosts remain of this lost world and that’s what we’ve come here to find. The fossilised bones of a myriad of animals dating back … Read More

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A tale of two penguins: Bice and Rosie

Nic Rawlence Mar 05, 2018

New Zealand has long been considered the cradle of penguin evolution. But two new fossil discoveries, affectionately known as Bice’s, (pronounced Bee-chee’s), and Rosie’s Penguins, are rewriting early penguin evolution and have taken the world by storm. Move aside Penguins of Madagascar; there are some new and cool kids on the block! But how did we get to this … Read More

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Traditional Chinese medicine: Eye of newt and toe of frog

Nic Rawlence Dec 09, 2017

‘Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn, and cauldron bubble’ chant the three witches in the cavern, lightening flashing outside, in Act 4, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It’s images like these, conjured up by the great bard himself, that I associate with traditional Chinese medicines and herbal remedies. The implied promise that if I take this concoction, my health … Read More

Will the real frog please stand up…

Nic Rawlence Dec 05, 2017

Luke Easton, a PhD student from our laboratory studying Conservation Palaeontology, is about to drop into Martinborough’s Cave of Bones. Abseiling into the tomo he is assaulted by the putrid rich smell and sight of rotting sheep carcases that lie between him and his treasure. You see, Luke is on the hunt for the bones of some of the … Read More

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‘Honey, I’m related to Genghis Khan’: the hype around ancestral DNA testing

Nic Rawlence Nov 27, 2017

Television documentaries focusing on the use of ancestral DNA to reveal hidden mysteries in family trees are becoming increasingly popular. However, in our house they are known as ‘the time Daddy rants at the TV’. Quite frequently, you will hear me exclaim to my kids ‘You can’t say that!’ or ‘There’s no evidence to support that’, before I throw … Read More

What’s in a name: the importance of naming biodiversity

Nic Rawlence Sep 26, 2017

‘What’s in a name? that which we call a rose. By any other word would smell as sweet’ wrote the bard when he penned Romeo and Juliet. Names are important. They evoke emotions, power, a sense of pride and ownership. Names can transcend language barriers and allow global communication of science. Naming biodiversity is no different. Recently I gave a … Read More

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Ancient DNA giveth and ancient DNA taketh away: The penguin that never was

Nic Rawlence Aug 18, 2017

Dr Nic Rawlence & Tess Cole, University of Otago Australian politics is mired in a duel-citizenship scandal. Certain politicians have discovered that they are in fact part kiwi and accusations of interference in Australian politics are flying. This trans-Tasman identity shock, however, is not unique to Australian politicians. Now new ancient DNA research has surprisingly shown it’s also found … Read More