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  • This Connected article explains how an ancient lake, Foulden Maar was formed by a volcanic eruption 23 million years ago and is very fossil rich. In 2019 it came to the public’s attention when a mining company, which owned the land, had been granted permission to mine there. The scientific community started a campaign against this proposal.

    Rights: Crown 2020

    Connected article: Foulden Maar: fossils or food?

    An article in the 2020 level 4 Connected journal ‘Feeling the Heat’ published by the Ministry of Education, New Zealand.

    Use this article to learn about:

    • the creation of Foulden Maar
    • how fossils form, and what is it that makes the fossils at Foulden Maar so special
    • why mine at Foulden Maar – the economic value of diatomite
    • who are involved in the decisions about the future of the maar (the stakeholders)
    • what could be the future for Foulden Maar.
    Rights: Daphne Lee, CC BY-ND

    Fossil diatoms

    A scanning electron microscope image reveals fossil diatoms, present in their billions at Foulden Maar.

    This article prompts critical thinking and ends with a call to social action.

    Key nature of science ideas

    Use this article to help explain to your students how scientists:

    • look for reliable evidence
    • consider what other scientists have discovered when making a decision about a situation
    • work within a cultural context where science influences and is also influenced by societal responses.
    Rights: Stella McQueen, CC BY-SA 4.0

    Galaxiid fossil

    Galaxias effusus holotype fossil from Foulden Maar. This is the oldest galaxiid fish in the world.

    Key science ideas

    Some of the key science science ideas and concepts covered include:

    • processes that cause the Earth to change over time
    • the processes that gradually change sediments into rocks also help form fossils
    • fossils are the remains of organisms, or traces of their activities preserved in some manner
    • fossils can help us learn about living organism that were on Earth before there were people
    • some fossil materials have an economic value as they can be used to make products.

    Teacher support material

    Check your school library for the article from the 2020 level 4 Connected journal ‘Feeling the Heat’, download it as a Google slide presentation from Tāhūrangi or order it from the Ministry of Education.

    The teacher support material (TSM) can be downloaded from Tāhūrangi (Word and PDF files available).

    Rights: Crown 2020

    2020 Connected Level 4: Feeling the Heat

    The cover of the 2020 level 4 Connected journal ‘Feeling the Heat’ published by the Ministry of Education, New Zealand. This issue includes the articles Tūwatawata and the New Zealand Wars, Fostering felines, Foulden Maar: fossils or food? and Wildfires.

    There are three learning activities that support the exploring science aspects of the New Zealand Curriculum:

    • Fossils of food? – students take on the roles of various stakeholders with an extension idea on taking action.
    • Buried treasure – understanding and learning from fossils, ending with creating a job description for a Foulden Maar palaeontologist.
    • Geopark – students explore what a geopark is and design their own, and then use Minecraft to build a model.

    Related content

    Learn more about the ancient fossils of Foulden Maar and the fight to protect the site from mining. There are also lots of useful links at the bottom of this article.

    One of New Zealand’s most exceptional fossil sites may soon be open to scientists again following a land purchase that saved it from commercial mining.

    The Connected article Squawkzilla looks at the discovery of the remains of a giant parrot that lived in New Zealand 19 million years ago.

    Explore the life of Joan Wiffen who found New Zealand’s first dinosaur fossil.

    For more on fossils, explore the range of content we have under our fossils topic.

    To follow media articles and reports on Foulden Maar, go to our Pinterest board.

    Check out our entire range of Connected articles here. We’ve curated them by topic and concepts.

    Activity idea

    In Fossil correlation students date fossils from one site by matching them to fossils already dated somewhere else.

    Useful links

    See the Building Science Concepts, Book 41: Fossils: Digging up the Past to extend your students’ understanding about fossilisation and the insights we can gain from fossils.

    School Journals:

    The National Paleontological Collection includes a large number of type and figured specimens, and comprehensive stratigraphic and geological collections of fossil taxa from New Zealand and its surrounding area (including Antarctica).

    A geopark is a defined area of international geological significance that tells the story of how the geology and landscape have shaped the lives of its inhabitants, be they people, animals or plants. It is a new UNESCO designation. The Waitaki Whitestone Geopark in the South Island is seeking to be the first designated geopark in Oceania.

    This 2022 RNZ (Radio New Zealand) story about University of Otago scientist Daphne Lee’s new book Fossil Treasures of Foulden Maar provides a glimpse into this paleontological site, include is an interview and lots of beautiful images.

    UPDATE: In January 2023 Dunedin City Council announced that it had reached an agreement buy the Foulden Maar mining site. Read this RadioNZ news story.

    The Connected journals can be ordered from the Down the Back of the Chair website. Access to these resources is restricted to Ministry-approved education providers. To find out if you are eligible for a login or if you have forgotten your login details, contact their customer services team on 0800 660 662 or email


    The Connected series is published annually by the Ministry of Education, New Zealand.

      Published 12 June 2021, Updated 3 February 2023 Referencing Hub articles
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