Can a handwritten journal from a mid-19th century explorer reveal the location of a lost world wonder? Researchers in New Zealand think so.
In a study recently published in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, researchers Rex Bunn and Sascha Nolden claim they have found the location of the country's famed pink and white terraces, which some had once considered to be the "eighth wonder of the world."
The terraces, a large, bright white and pink set of cascading rocks, were once considered the largest deposit of silica sinter, a type of quartz.
When Mount Tarawera erupted on June 10, 1886, volcanic ash spewed into Lake Rotomaha, temporarily filling in the lake and covering the terraces in a tomb of mud and rock.
The eruption killed 120 mostly native people and robbed the region of what had been one of its most iconic landforms.
A five-year study came to the "inescapable conclusion" last year that the terraces had been destroyed during the earthquake's blast. A team of American and New Zealand researchers used a variety of underwater sonar, surveys, and photography to determine what happened on the day of the explosion and how that geologically affected the region in the days that passed.
In an interview with the BBC last year about the research team's conclusion, lead scientist Cornel de Ronde underscored the cultural importance that the terraces represented for New Zealanders, saying previous hopes of finding the terraces were "a bit like Americans finding evidence for a long-lost Grand Canyon."
But Bunn and Nolden, who could not be reached for comment at the time of this article's publication, are now saying last year's conclusion may have been based off 130 years of incorrect cartographical information. In an interview with The Guardian, they said they believe the terraces had not been pushed to the bottom of the lake or destroyed, which were conclusions found by previous researchers.
Using the 1859 field diary of Ferdinand von Hochstetter, they believe they have found the location of the terraces, 30 to 50 feet below the lake's shore. The researchers reverse engineered Hochstetter's work by reconstructing the geographic bearings from 1859 and determining where they would fall over the region's current topography.
In Hochstetter's diary, he offers one of the only comprehensive cartographic survey of the region taken before the eruption.
“Our research relied on the only survey ever made of that part of New Zealand and therefore we are confident the cartography is sound,” Bunn told The Guardian. “Hochstetter was a very competent cartographer.”
Hochstetter is often considered the "father of New Zealand cartography" and had been hired by the regional government at the time to survey the islands.
In an interview with New Zealand news outlet Sunday Star Times, Nolden explained that he found Hochstetter's field work while curating an exhibition on the cartographer's work in 2010.
Nolden and Bunn noted the previous findings claiming the terraces had been destroyed in their paper, saying: "It is ironic GNS Science concluded the terraces were largely destroyed, just as we gained the first evidence the pink and white terrace locations survived."
Future excavations of the site now lie in the hands of New Zealand's Tuhuourangi tribal authority.
Header Image: View over Lake Rotomahana, Waimangu Volcanic Valley, North Island, New Zealand. Studies concluded in 2016 that the famed pink and white terraces had been destroyed by a volcanic explosion in 1886. PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERTHARDING, ALAMY