Thursday, 18 August 2011

Moa bones and ancient poo dazzles researchers

A combination of team work, community funding and a Waimate archeologist skilled in the field of skeletons and anatomy, has meant the town has a moa exhibition that has impressed some of New Zealand's moa research elite.

The Waimate Historical Museum exhibition which runs until November, received a visit from a group of top moa experts, including from Te Papa, who were on their way to a key moa site at St Bathans. Intending to stay only five minutes, instead they stayed 90.

The exhibition is special to Waimate because of the Kapua moa excavations of 1895. Kapua, at one end of the Waimate gorge, was the resting place of 800 moa skeletons.

The giant birds, naive about humans, were a good package of easy meat to a hunter. Big adults were hunted out first, cutting out the breeders. Younger ones followed, before they could breed. Moa eggs were also being eaten.

Interestingly, museums all over the world still have moa skeletons posed with their necks stretching straight up. Now knowing more about anatomy and bones, researchers know their necks curved horizontally, in line with their backs.

The exhibition features a bone from the Kapua dig which still has its hand-written metal tag attached. Other items come from museums further afield. The Canterbury Museum's contribution was halted, days before it was to be transported, by the February earthquake. Fortunately, Otago Museum was able to step in.

Interestingly, Wikipedia has the number of moa species at 11, but researchers now know that there were nine, adapted to different environments such as the swamp, the uplands, the forest or the coast and climates as differing as the West Coast from the East.

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