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Joan Wiffen

Fossil hunter (1922-2009)

When Joan Wiffen decided to look for dinosaurs in New Zealand, she didn’t know about the belief held by most scientists at the time: There were no dinosaurs, because our land had been isolated for so long. Wiffen was no expert and her formal education had been brief. But she became enthused by geology and fossils when she attended a nightclass in her husband’s place. Wiffen and her family scoured geological maps and found a spot near their small Hawkes Bay farm with a reference to “reptilian bones”.

After years of searching up the steep, rugged stream bed, Wiffen found her first dinosaur bone – the tail of a theropod, thought to be a sort of allosaur four to five metres long. This was formally announced in 1980 by a recognised academic, so there could be no doubt as to the validity of Wiffen’s work. New Zealand’s “dinosaur lady” went on to receive an honorary doctorate and CBE as well as find many more dinosaur bones.

For more information:

‘Joan Wiffen, a Fossil Expert | Collections Online - Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa’, accessed 15 November 2017, https://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/topic/1326.

This profile is part of the series 150 Women in 150 Words that celebrates women’s contributions to expanding knowledge in New Zealand, running as part of our 150th Anniversary.