Joan Wiffen

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Joan Wiffen

Joan Wiffen with fossil.jpg
Joan Pederson

(1922-02-04)4 February 1922
Died30 June 2009(2009-06-30) (aged 87)
Hastings, New Zealand
NationalityNew Zealand
Known forFirst discovery of dinosaur fossils in New Zealand
Spouse(s)Montagu Arthur "Pont" Wiffen (m. 1953)
AwardsMorris Skinner Award
Scientific career

Joan Wiffen CBE (née Pederson, 4 February 1922 – 30 June 2009) was a New Zealand amateur paleontologist.[1]

Early life[edit]

Wiffen was born in 1922 and was brought up in Havelock North and the King Country. She only had a very short secondary school education as her father believed that higher education was wasted on girls,[2] so he made her leave. At the age of 16, Wiffen joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force during World War II where she served for six years.[2]


In 1975 Wiffen discovered the first dinosaur fossils in New Zealand in the Mangahouanga Valley in Northern Hawkes Bay. Her first discovery was the tail bone of a theropod dinosaur. Her later finds included bones from a hypsilophodont, a pterosaur, an ankylosaur, mosasaurs and plesiosaurs.[2] In 1999, Wiffen discovered the vertebra bone of a titanosaur in a tributary of the Te Hoe River.[3] The fossils Wiffen found are primarily held in a GNS Science collection.

Honours and awards[edit]

Wiffen was awarded an honorary DSc by Massey University in 1994.[4] In the 1995 New Year Honours, she was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to science.[5] In 2004, she won the Morris Skinner Award from the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.[1]

Personal life[edit]

In 1953 she married her husband Pont Wiffen and they had two children. Pont and Joan Wiffen travelled widely in both New Zealand and Australia collecting both minerals and small fossils of sea animals with their children. The couple were very interested in fossils, and Pont ended up taking classes on fossils and such things. One day when Pont was home sick, Joan went to the class in his place and ever since then she was in awe of dinosaurs and fossils. She died at the age of 87 on 30 June 2009 in Hastings Hospital.[2]

Further reading[edit]

  • Valley of the Dragons: The Story of New Zealand's Dinosaur Woman by Joan Wiffen: Random Century, Auckland, 1991


  1. ^ a b Scott, Michon (1 August 2009). "Rocky road: Joan Wiffen". Retrieved 28 January 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d "'Dinosaur Lady' Joan Wiffen dies at 87". New Zealand Herald. 2 July 2009.
  3. ^ "Giant dinosaur fossil find in Hawke's Bay". 24 June 2008. Retrieved 29 June 2011.
  4. ^ "Honorary graduates". Massey University. Archived from the original on 25 April 2018. Retrieved 28 January 2015.
  5. ^ "No. 53894". The London Gazette (2nd supplement). 30 December 1994. p. 34.

External links[edit]

  • "Dinosaur finder", audio of Wiffen speaking about her first visit to Maungahounga. Radio New Zealand Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero.