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Mary Manley
Mary Manley
Mary Manley is a writer for Sputnik’s Washington, DC, bureau focusing on US politics, pop culture and other breaking news. Before moving to Washington, DC, Manley attended the University of Maine to study art and literary theory and criticism.

Wastewater pipeline dig leads to discovery of rare fossil ‘treasure trove’ in Auckland

Officials have indicated that the recent discovery is one of the richest and most diverse fauna of its age ever found in New Zealand, noting that hundreds of thousands of fossils date back to the Late Pliocene age.

Newly surfaced findings have revealed a shocking discovery in which researchers unearthed 266 different fossil species that were found in an Auckland pipeline, 10 of which are previously unknown.

In 2020, contractors in Auckland, New Zealand, stumbled upon what is being hailed as a “treasure trove” of fossils while excavating for an upgrade to the city’s main raw sewage pipeline. Once the bed was discovered by contractors, they removed what was reportedly heaps of sand to a nearby paddock intended to be examined by paleontologists.

“Detailed identification of the fossils shows that they were deposited between 3 and 3.7 million years ago in a subtidal channel in an early version of the modern Manukau Harbour,” said Bruce Hayward, the lead author of the published findings.

“At that time, sea level was slightly higher than it is today as the world was also several degrees warmer than now. As a result, the fossils include a number of subtropical species, whose relatives today live in the warmer waters around the Kermadec and Norfolk islands. At least 10 previously unknown species are present and will be described and named in future work.”

The discovery is one of the richest and most diverse fauna of its age ever found in New Zealand. Researchers found over 300,000 fossils dating back to the Late Pliocene age.

Some of these creatures included the world’s oldest known flax snails, an extinct sawshark spine, and great white shark teeth.

“What is surprising is that the fauna contains fossils that lived in many different environments that have been brought together in the ancient marine channel by wave action and strong tidal currents. It includes 10 specimens of the iconic NZ flax snail that must have lived on the adjacent land and been washed down into the sea by storm runoff,” says Hayward.

“These are by far the oldest known flax snails in the world. Most of the fossils lived on the sea floor, some in brackish estuaries, others attached to hard rocky shorelines and still more have been carried in from offshore of the exposed west coast at the time.”
“Rare finds have included isolated baleen whale vertebrae, a broken sperm whale tooth, the spine of an extinct sawshark, dental plates of eagle rays and a number of great white shark teeth,” he added.

Media has reported that Watercare, the company that discovered the fossils, helped to fund future research into the discovery. Thousands of the fossils have since been placed into a museum. The find, said Dr. Alan Beau – New Zealand’s leading molluscan fossil expert who died earlier this year, is a reminder of nature’s persistent ability to surprise us.

The findings were outlined in a scientific paper that appeared in the New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics.

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