- Nov 19, 2002
50 years of research has gone into this book and there are only 300 copies, so be quick! A real lifetime's achievement.
It has taken half a century to write but Graeme Stevens says his book on Southland fossils is worth the wait.
In 1955, as a geology graduate from Victoria University, Dr Stevens was sent to Southland to help map the Hokonui Hills.
"I came across lots of fossils. I realised they were of international importance – they were special things. But I didn't have time to study them."
Dr Stevens and his fellow geologists at the New Zealand Geological Survey were under pressure to put out their map as quickly as possible.
So he filled his notebooks with fossil drawings and observations and then put them to one side.
Since he retired in 1992, after becoming chief paleontologist with the Geological Survey (now the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences), he has had time for projects.
In 1997 he published a book on the fossils found near Kawhia. Then he started work on the Hokonui fossils. Eight years later Hettangian-Sinemurian Ammonites of New Zealand is finished – 50 years after he did the research.
"It's a tremendous sense of satisfaction," he said. "Over the years it's been a monkey on my shoulder. It's been unfinished business for so long."
Writing a book that is likely to be read by only a few specialists had been a labour of love. "My business friends think I'm crackers. It's all been voluntary and unpaid."
He could have worked faster but said there was no need. "These are the freedom years. It would be stupid to spend every day at the office."
Working at a computer in his Lower Hutt home, Dr Stevens found his old notes and drawings were good enough for him to complete his work without revisiting the Hokonui Hills and sampling its whisky, as he did 50 years ago.
So why are Hokonui's fossils so interesting? They are 200 million years old and are made up of animals that look like little submarines.
The fossils were originally creatures that lived on the sea floor, but when the seabed was lifted and the continents shifted, they found themselves exposed on dry land.
Dr Stevens said they were similar to fossils found in British Columbia, Nevada and Alaska, meaning 200 million years ago New Zealand may have been linked to the northwest of North America. His book also supports the theory that the Pacific Ocean was once a fraction of its present size – possibly just 2000 kilometres across at its widest point.
With only 300 copies, Dr Stevens is relaxed that his book will never hit the best-seller lists. It will, however, grace the shelves of some of the world's top university and research libraries.
Next March he will present a paper on his findings at an international conference on fossils in Wellington.