Moa prints 'important path back to the past'

Moa prints found in the Kyeburn River. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Moa prints found in the Kyeburn River. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Further research could shed more light on the age of moa footprints recently found and taken from the Kyeburn River, Prof Ewan Fordyce says.

The prints, now being safeguarded at the Otago Museum, were leading researchers millions of years back to a time when that part of Central Otago was a huge flood plain, without mountains.

"These prints form an important path back to the past," Prof Fordyce, a paleontologist at the University of Otago geology department, said.

Scientists did not know the exact age of the footprints and an estimate of about four million to five million years old was broadly based on the estimated age of the sedimentary rock the footprints had become part of, he said.

"The date is quite uncertain.

"We know that it is old and it could be older than the age of the [nearby] Kakanui Range.

"It might be possible to get a slightly more refined age from fossil pollen."

Ewan Fordyce
Ewan Fordyce
Otago Museum assistant curator natural science Kane Fleury, who led the recent expeditions to the moa print site, agreed the age of the prints was hard to determine.

"We know the sediments they are contained in are from either the Swinburn or the Wedderburn formations, which gives the sediment a date range between one million and 11 million years."

Museum director Dr Ian Griffin, who took photographs for the museum at the site, said the find was of "the first moa footprints in the South Island and they could be the oldest known moa footprints".

The museum was "very proud it had managed to do this".

The museum would use a GNS laboratory to clarify the footprint dates by dating any fossil pollen found in the rocks.

"The intention of the museum is to get the maximum amount of information and knowledge from this fantastic find," Dr Griffin said.

Ranfurly man Michael Johnston, who found the prints, said he contacted the Otago Museum after Te Papa failed to act when he alerted it to the find.

Asked which museum or educational institution had precedence for Otago fossil finds, and in which institution it could end up, Dr Griffin said "there are no rules" in determining which museum had priority.

Otago Museum staff worked collaboratively with research institutions elsewhere in the country.

Nevertheless, the Otago Museum had been actively collecting in Otago, including fossils, for the past 150 years, and the museum had the staff required, and a close relationship with the Otago geology department.

"I would like to think that we have priority," he said.

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