Thursday, November 03, 2005

Fossilized footprints on volcanic soil discovered

Fossilised footprints proving humans witnessed the eruption of Rangitoto Island 600 years ago have been shifted into the public eye for an exhibition at the Auckland War Memorial Museum.
Museum spokesman John Early says the fossil provides direct evidence that people were living alongside Rangitoto while it was erupting.

The block of Rangitoto's volcanic ash bears marks of New Zealand's earliest Polynesian settlers living on neighbouring Motutapu Island around 600 years ago. An adult footprint can be seen next to a child's footprint, followed by several dog paw prints.

"Their descendants are probably still walking around the streets of Auckland today," says Early.
The fossil was uncovered more than 20 years ago, but it has never been seen by the public.
Descendants from Ngai Tai Kitamaki blessed their ancestors' legacy as it began its journey to the mainland and say they are proud the fossil will go on public display.

The fossilised layer of ash reveals more than just human footprints. Underneath where it was removed archaeologists have found abandoned stone tools and food scraps, revealing a snapshot of life when the eruption happened.

DOC Arcchaeologist Andy Dodd says the changing environment seemed to force a change in diet.

"Underneath the ash layer there is far more bird bone, while above the ash layer people seem to have shifted to marine resources," says Dodd.

Historians say early settlers took geological activity in their stride.

They probably would have seen the volcano erupting and left the site promptly, and it is believed they watched from boats.

But with at least four major ash showers, life post Rangitoto's eruptions would have been a little messy.

"The ash shower would have been damp and wet and probably not particularly pleasant but certainly people would have been capable of surviving," says Dodd.

The fossil footprints will go on display at Auckland's War Memorial Museum by the end of the year.

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