March of the Fossil Penguins

Fossil penguin discoveries and research

Penguins under Middle Earth

with 6 comments

If you enjoy penguins, you probably also enjoy the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.  Both provide an endless source of charm, adventure and wonder.  Recently, I saw the Hobbit movie in a theater, and one of the interesting parts of the experience for me was that my mind kept wanting the action to stop so the characters could look for fossils.  No, I have not lost my mind. As most viewers know from media coverage, The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogies were filmed in New Zealand.   With large swathes of wide open land and a variety of terrain, New Zealand is a perfect place to shoot an adventure epic.   Wide-open windswept plains? Check. Majestic snow-covered mountain chains? Check. Otherworldly forests of fern trees, lancewood, and beech? Check.  New Zealand is also a major center for sheep, with lots of rolling pastoral land which pleasantly resembles most reader’s imaginings of the Shire.

Few people expect to find a fossil near a peacefully munching sheep, but in fact several of the fossil sites I have visited on the South Island are within a pinecone’s throw of grazing flocks.  One of the reasons this is so is the particular geological history of New Zealand.  Back during the Oligocene, a prime era for archaic penguins, most of the present day islands were flooded by ocean waters.  With just a shallow depth of water above, the environment  was perfect for the formation of limestones and greensands, types of rocks that are often rich in fossils (and indeed often composed in large part of miniscule fossil shells).  Limestone in particular is rich in minerals that plants require to grow, and so grazing grounds underlain by limestone support particularly good fodder for livestock. This makes me wonder if dwarfs ever marched over any fossils during their journey.  With their remarkable mining skills, they probably could have excavated them in half the time it takes our paleontology team.

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At left, the movie set for Hobbiton and at right a fossil penguin excavation in what I imagine the back side of the hobbit hill to look like.

Written by Dan Ksepka

January 11, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses

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  1. Now was it just me, or was the establishing shot of Radagast on his sled being chased by Wargs filmed at Earthquakes? I’m next to certain I have a photo of Ewan running down the same path Radagast’s sled speeds down.

    Craig Dylke

    January 11, 2013 at 10:03 pm

  2. Also yes, when people asked me if I visited THE Shire while I lived in NZ, I tell them I didn’t need to. The majority of the country looks like the Shire. Why would I pay $200, when I could drive 5 minutes and be somewhere nearly identical (though 5 years they didn’t have any of the Hobbit hole sets up… I hear this time they’ve left them up… so it might be worth the money now)

    Craig Dylke

    January 11, 2013 at 10:07 pm

  3. One time I saw on a tv show that Little Blue Fairy Penguins live in a hole that could be like an idea for a hobbit hole!


    January 12, 2013 at 10:26 am

  4. I am not sure but I think the Wargs were “filmed” elsewhere. However, there seemed to be prospectable limestone in the backgrounds of many scenes.

    Dan Ksepka

    January 16, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    • For the majority I completely agree (most of it was at Poolburn as a matter of fact). However it is a single shot I’m thinking of. Next time you watch it pay close attention right when the Warg chase begins. There is a medium level helicopter establishing shot, and I’m 90% certain it is Earthquakes (if not somewhere in the Duntroon region)

      Craig Dylke

      January 16, 2013 at 7:43 pm

  5. The very thought of digging for fossils in Middle-Earth itself seems very interesting. But then, Arda is an explicitly created Young Earth, so the best you could hope for would be subfossils, I fear.


    February 13, 2013 at 11:25 am

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