New Zealand 1993 "Dinosaurs"


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Issue Date 01.10.1993
ID Michel: 1314, 1315-1319, Bl.39, 39I Scott: 1180-1184, 1184a Stanley Gibbons: 1762-1767, 1768 Yvert: 1247-1251, 1252, 90, 92 UPU: N/A Category: pR
Designer Geoffrey Cox, Auckland, NZ
Stamps in set 6
Value    45c - Booklet stamp: Sauropod and Carnosaur
   45c - Sauropod
   80c - Pterosaur
$1.00 - Ankylosaur
$1.20 - Mauisaurus
$2.80 - Carnosaur
Size (width x height) 28 x 40 mm, Block 124 x 99 mm
Layout 100 stamps in sheet
Products FDC x 2, Souvenir-Sheet x 1, Booklet x1
Paper Harrison and Sons, red phosphor coated, unwatermarked
Perforation Sheet stamps: 13.5,
Booklet stamp: 12,
Miniature Sheet stamp: 14.5 x 14
Print Technique Lithography
Printed by Southern Colour Print, Dunedin, New Zealand
Issuing Authority New Zealand Post
Dinosaurs on stamps of New Zealand 1993

On January 10th 1993, Post authority of New Zealand issued a set of 6 stamps and a Souvenir Sheet that shows various prehistoric animals.
New Zealand post issued 1 stamp from the set in booklet of 10. The other stamps in the issue were published as individual sheets of 100 stamps. The colorful Souvenir-Sheet incorporates the $1.50 stamp from the issue and depicts a lively scene showing a conflict between two Carnosaurs and a pair of Hypsilophodonts.
Between 1-10 October 1993 stamp collectors, postal administrations and exhibitors flocked to Thailand to attend the Bangkok '93 World Philatelic Exhibition, where New Zealand Post produced an overprinted Dinosaur souvenir sheet to commemorate the event.

Even though the stamps set was called "Dinosaurs" not all prehistoric animals depicted on the stamps are dinosaurs. Dinosaurs per definition are terrestrial animals. The pterosaurs are flying reptiles and plesiosaurs (Mauisaurus) are marine reptiles.

For 165 million years dinosaurs ruled the earth with unparalleled strength and power. To date of the stamps issue (1993), some 500 types of dinosaur have been identified, but this is believed to be only a fraction of the species that actually existed.
They came in all shapes and sizes (some were as small as chickens, while some were as tall as five-storey buildings) and they displayed a wide range of social behaviour patterns (some were gentle in nature and ate plant life, while others were violent and threatening, and ate those that ate the plant life!).
The name 'dinosaur' originates from a combination of two Greek words: 'deinos' meaning terrible and 'sauros' meaning lizard. The term was introduced by prominent British paleontologist Sir Richard Owen in 1841. By coining the term in his report, Owen refers to dinosaurs instead as 'fearfully great', acknowledging their large size - significantly surpassing that of any living reptile.
It is these 'terrible lizards' - in particular those that once walked on New Zealand soil - that are the subject of this stamp issue.

Fossils of prehistoric marine reptiles were known in New Zealand since 1861, when Professor Owen communicated to the British Association a brief description of certain fossils that had been discovered by Mr. T. H. Cockbvirn Hood, P.G.S., and presented by him to the British Museum.
Paleontologist Joan Wiffen stamp of New Zealand 2022 The theropod bone found by Joan Wiffen in 1975
Paleontologist Joan Wiffen stamp of New Zealand 2022, MiNr.: , Scott: 3052. The theropod bone found by Joan Wiffen in 1975.
Image credit: the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS).
The dinosaurs were not discovered in New Zealand for more than a century, until in 1974 amateur fossil collector Joan Wiffen and her team of family and friends found an unusual bone in a Hawkes Bay riverbank from which she'd been retrieved prehistoric marine reptile fossils for years.
When she showed it to another palaeontologist, she learned it was part of the backbone of a carnivorous dinosaur.
In that moment, the long held belief that dinosaurs had never roamed New Zealand, because the country had been isolated from other lands for so long, was shattered.

In the next few years Joan Wiffen uncovered more dinosaur fossils and remains of pterosaur.
Unfortunately, every discovery so far (2022) has been of isolated bones, making complete identification impossible.
As a result, New Zealand dinosaurs have not been given scientific names but general descriptions such as 'carnosaur' and 'sauropod' - the equivalent of describing a modern animal as a 'cat' or 'horse' rather than 'tiger' or 'zebra'.

Prehistoric animals of the stamps

45c - Sauropod
45c - Booklet stamp: a Carnosaur attacks a sauropod
Sauropod on stamp of New Zealand 1993
Sauropod on stamp of New Zealand 1993. MiNr.: 1315, Scott: 1180
Booklet stamp of New Zealand 1993: Carnosaur attack Sauropod
Booklet stamp of New Zealand 1993: Carnosaur attack Sauropod. MiNr.: 1314, Scott: 1185
Sauropoda bone discovered by Joan Wiffen at Mangahouanga Stream
Sauropoda bone discovered by Joan Wiffen at Mangahouanga Stream
Sauropoda bone discovered by Joan Wiffen at Mangahouanga Stream. Dimension - length: 390mm, width: 70mm (length), Height: 50mm (length).
Image credit: the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS).
The sauropods were giant, herbivorous dinosaurs with extremely long tails and necks; Apatosaurus (also called Brontosaurus) and Diplodocus being among the best known of them.

In 1999, Joan Wiffen discovered a single large caudal vertebra, identified as belonging to a titanosaurid, adding to the scarce record of these giants in Aotearoa New Zealand.
The New Zealand sauropod was much smaller than Apatosaurus - probably about the size of a large elephant.

At the date of the stamp issue, Sauropod of New Zealand was identified from a piece of rib, which would originally have been 1 to 2 meters long.

The fossil is so distinctive in terms of its size and shape that it can be confidently assigned titanosaurid, but more information is necessary to make a more specific determination of the genus or species to which this bone belongs.
It relates to an animal that was about eight metres in length.

In 2009 some footprints of sauropods, thought to be about 70 million years old, were discovered in the north-west Nelson region. The discovery of the first dinosaur footprints ever found in New Zealand and the first evidence of dinosaurs in the South Island has amazed scientists around the world.
The giant dinosaur was herbivore that used its long giraffe-like neck to graze on lush tree top vegetation and lived in herds.

80c - Pterosaur
Pterosaur on stamp of New Zealand 1993
Pterosaur on stamp of New Zealand 1993. MiNr.: 1316, Scott: 1181
The pterosaurs were the first animals (other than insects) to take to the air and fly. Unlike birds, however, their wings did not have feathers but a large membrane of skin, like bats' wings.
Pterosaur bone discovered by Trevor Crabtree at Mangahouanga Stream
Pterosaur bone discovered by Trevor Crabtree at Mangahouanga Stream
The first described Pterosaur bone from New Zealand. It was discovered by Trevor Crabtree at Mangahouanga Stream in 1985. Described by Joan Wiffen and Dr. Ralph Molnar in their paper "First pterosaur from New Zealand" in 1988.
Image credit: the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS).

In 1985, amateur palaeontologist Mr. Trevor Crabtree stumbled on an unusual bone at Mangahouanga Stream on the North Island of New Zealand.
The delicate layered bone looked to be that of a bird. Painstaking cleaning and consultation with overseas authorities showed it to be something more astounding: the lower wing bone (distal) of a pterosaur.
This was the first evidence of a pterosaur from New Zealand, the third from the Late Cretaceous of the southern hemisphere, and represents the extreme southern occurrence of a pterosaur.

In 1988, amateur palaeontologist from New Zealand Mrs. Joan Wiffen and vertebrate palaeontologist Dr. Ralph Molnar from the Queensland Museum, Australia, published an article about the bone. "First pterosaur from New Zealand" was printed in Australian palaeontology journal "Alcheringa".
They estimated the age of these fossils as equivalent to Campanian-Maastrichtian stages (70.6 million years ago) of Late Cretaceous. This age estimation was based on molluscan fossils found in boulders derived from the local sandstone of the Mata Series and collected from Mangahouanga Stream, where the fossil was discovered. These beds were deposited on the continental shelf, apparently under shallow, near-shore conditions.
Wiffen and Molnar found some similarity of the bone to the distal bone of Brazilian pterosaur Santanadactylus araripensis (named after the Araripe Plateau), who had an estimated wingspan of 4 meters. However, relationships of this pterosaur was difficult to determine in the relative absence of comparative materials.

The Crabtree's fossil is the first described pterosaur fossil from New Zealand, but it is perhaps, not the first pterosaur fossil discovered in the country. In 1955, Sir Charles Fleming discovered a piece of bone that has been unofficially identified as that of a pterosaur, from Mikonui Stream, Canterbury. However, the Fleming’s specimen has not been formally identified and described yet (2022).

$1.0 - Ankylosaur
Ankylosaur on stamp of New Zealand 1993
Ankylosaur on stamp of New Zealand 1993. MiNr.: 1317, Scott: 1182
Ankylosauria bone discovered by Joan Wiffen at Mangahouanga Stream
Ankylosauria bone discovered by Joan Wiffen at Mangahouanga Stream
Ankylosaurian bones discovered by Joan Wiffen at Mangahouanga Stream. Dimension - length: 160mm, width: 70mm (length), Height: 25mm (length)
Image credit: the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS).
The Ankylosauria are a group of herbivorous dinosaurs of the order Ornithischia. It includes the great majority of dinosaurs with armour in the form of bony osteoderms, similar to turtles.
Ankylosaurs were bulky quadrupeds, with short, powerful limbs. Its head was square and flat and was broader than it was long. Its teeth, like those of the related stegosaurs, consisted of a simple curved row of irregularly edged (crenulated) leaf-shaped teeth.
Ankylosaurus’s long tail terminated in a thick “club” of bone, which it probably swung as a defence against predators. This club was formed by the last tail vertebrae, which were nested tightly against each other and a sheath of several bony plates.
Although a slow-moving herbivore, Ankylosaur presented anything but an easy target for meat-eating dinosaurs heavy bone armour, coupled with bony horns across its back and head, saw to that.
Ankylosaur were up to three metres long and weighing around half a tonne.
They are known to have first appeared in the Middle Jurassic, and persisted until the end of the Cretaceous Period. The two main families of Ankylosaurs, Nodosauridae and Ankylosauridae are primarily known from the Northern Hemisphere, but the more basal Parankylosauria are known from southern Gondwana during the Cretaceous.
Ankylosauria was first named by Henry Fairfield Osborn in 1923.

To the date of the stamp issue, Ankylosaur fossils of New Zealand were represented by two tail vertebra and a piece flattened rib. All three bones were discovered by Joan Wiffen in 1998.

$1.20 - Mauisaurus
Mauisaurus on stamp of New Zealand 1993
Mauisaurus on stamp of New Zealand 1993. MiNr.: 1318, Scott: 1183
Mauisaurus was a 20-metre marine reptile, the largest of its kind in the world. It was an "elasmosaur", the type of plesiosaur with a tiny head and very long neck. This meant that, for all its size, its diet was restricted to small fish and squid in the shallow coastal waters in which it lived.
Mauisaurus on stamp of New Zealand 2010
Mint and self-adhesive Mauisaurus stamps from "Ancient Reptiles of New Zealand" stamps set from 2010, MiNr.: 2672/2679, Scott:
According to recent research (2022) on plesiosaurs, contrary to earlier depictions, plesiosaurs necks were not very flexible, and could not be held high above the water surface or incurve as by swan, as shown on the stamp. The necks of plesiosaurs were fully unlike those of animals with really flexible necks like many birds for example.
The neck posture was corrected on the New Zealand's stamp of 2010 (see on the right).
The vertebrae were rather short and there was very little space between the centers of the vertebrae. Their dorsal spines were very long and broad, which reduced the amount of possible vertical movement a lot. Unlike those of many other long-necked animals, the individual neck vertebrae on plesiosaurs were not particularly elongated; rather, the extreme neck length was achieved by a much increased number of vertebrae. Elasmosaurus's neck could reach up to 60% of the entire length of the animal by having 72 neck or cervical vertebrae.
The weight of its long neck placed the center of gravity behind the front flippers. Thus, Elasmosaurus could have raised its head and neck above the water only when in shallow water, where it could rest its body on the bottom. The weight of the neck, the limited musculature, and the limited movement between the vertebrae would have prevented Elasmosaurus from raising its head and neck very high.

The statement that "plesiosaurs probably came ashore to lay their eggs, burying them in the sand of beaches, as modern turtles do." from the booklet, issued by New Zealand's post in 1993, designed by Geoffrey Cox, is outdated, according to recent research.
In 2011 plesiosaur fossil of adult female with a fetus inside it (both were identified as the same species - Polycotylus latippinus) was reported by F. Robin O’Keefe of Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, USA.
As there is also no evidence that the adult ate the juvenile, such as damage from stomach acid, O’Keefe suggested that the long-necked plesiosaurs that roamed the seas during the dinosaur era gave birth to live young.
They probably cared for their offspring and may even have lived in large social groups, like modern-day whales.
O’Keefe says it’s not surprising that plesiosaurs gave birth: reptilian eggs are hard-shelled and must be laid on land, and plesiosaurs were too big to clamber out onto the shore.
This elasmosaurus skull was discovered by the late Joan Wiffen in the Urewera range
This elasmosaurus skull was discovered by the late Joan Wiffen in the Urewera range. Image credit: the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS)

Elasmosaurus fossils have been found in marine sedimentary rocks (mainly sandstone and siltstone) of Late Cretaceous age, between 100 and 65 million years ago, all over the world.
This superb specimen was discovered by Joan Wiffen and her colleagues at Mangahouanga Stream, Te Hoe Valley, Hawke's Bay.
It was subsequently prepared and described by Joan Wiffen and vertebrate palaeontologist Dr Ralph Molnar, and formally named Tuarangisaurus keyesi.
The genus name relates to its New Zealand origins and means 'lizard from Tuarangi'.
The species name honours Ian Keyes, a skilled fossil preparator, palaeontologist and curator with New Zealand Geological Survey, and a significant mentor to Joan Wiffen.
As with all other fossils at this locality, it is derived from the Maungataniwha Sandstone Formation.

$1.50 - Carnosaur

Carnosaurs hunt Hypsilophodonts  on Souvenir-Sheet of New Zealand 1993
Carnosaurs hunt Hypsilophodonts on Souvenir-Sheet of New Zealand 1993. MiNr.: Bl. 39, Scott: 1184a
At the date of the stamp issue, the remains of three theropod (carnivorous) dinosaurs were discovered in New Zealand. One of the fossils belongs to Carnosaur.
Carnosaur dinosaur was depicted on an individual stamp and on the stamp in the Souvenir-Sheet.

A fearsome flesh eater, Carnosaur weighed about two tonnes and may well have been capable of speeds as fast as 50 kilometres per hour.
It walked on its hind legs, had powerful clawed hands. An adult human would barely have reached the largest Carnosaur's thigh.
Two Carnosaurs are featured on the Souvenir-Sheet produced with this issue, once on the stamp and another one on the margin - this time attacking a pair of Hypsilophodonts.

Hypsilophodonts were the gazelles of the dinosaur world - small, fleet-footed herbivores without defensive armour or weapons.

The specimen found in New Zealand was about three metres long and is known from part of its pelvis.
Part of the hip of Hypsilophodont was discovered by Joan Wiffen.
There is evidence the "gazelle-like" creatures, which probably wandered in herds, lived in the North and South islands.


Regular stamps Souvenir-Sheet stamps Booklet stamps
Dinosaurs on FDC of New Zealand 1993 Dinosaurs on FDC of New Zealand 1993 Dinosaurs on FDC of New Zealand 1993
FDC autographed by the designer of the stamps Personalized FDCs Surcharged Souvenir-Sheet
Dinosaurs on FDC of New Zealand 1993 Dinosaurs on FDC of New Zealand 1993 Surcharged Souvenir-Sheet from New Zealand 1993
Booklet Example of circulated covers
Booklet's with dinosaur stamps of New Zealand 1993 Some circulated letters with dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals stamps of  New Zealand 1993 Some circulated letters with dinosaurs Souvenir-Sheets of  New Zealand 1993



Many thanks to
  • Dr. Peter Voice from Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, Western Michigan University, for the draft page review and his very valuable comments.
  • Marianna Terezow, Manager – National Paleontological Collection, GNS Science for the draft page review, provided images and her very valuable comments.


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