Washington, Feb 24 : The discovery of the oldest known bird fossils in New Zealand, along with other remains from the same area, has fuelled speculations that the birds co-existed with marine and terrestrial dinosaurs.
Storms had washed sand away from a rocky platform on Maunganui Beach, revealing a wealth of bones from the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago, when New Zealand first separated from the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana.
According to a report in National Geographic, along with the discovery of the fossils that represent possibly four new species of seabirds dating back to the late Cretaceous period, the excavation team also unearthed bones that are too large to belong to birds, including what could be the big toe from a two-legged carnivorous dinosaur known as a theropod.
Excavation leader Jeffrey Stilwell of Monash University in Australia found the fossil trove along a 1.2-mile (2-kilometer) stretch of rugged shoreline on the main Chatham Island, which sits more than 500 miles (800 kilometers) east of Christchurch.
According to Stilwell, "The dinosaurs and birds needed land, so they were probably living and breeding and dying fairly close by."
"It's also great to have a second dinosaur site in New Zealand, so we can get a better understanding of what conditions were like," said paleontologist Joan Wiffen.
"At least half the dinosaurs had to be herbivores to keep the food chain going, so analysis of leaves and seeds and wood will help to tell us more about the environment at that time," she added.
About 80 to 85 million years ago, a densely forested land bridge is believed to have spanned the Chatham Islands and present-day Banks Peninsula on South Island in New Zealand.
"Maybe at some point there were emergent islands there, but if we had really big dinosaurs ... there had to be sufficient land to keep these species going," said Stilwell.
"There probably also had to be a connection between the Chathams and somewhere like Hawke's Bay, because of the dinosaurs that were found there," he added.
"I'm hoping that if we find enough bones, that we can make that connection more concrete," said Stilwell.