More moa bones found

More moa bones have been excavated from a newly found deposit in northern Rangitikei.

The site, in a farm valley south of Taihape, is a former wetland with bones buried under the ash layer from the Taupo eruption 1800 years ago.

The moa bone deposit was discovered earlier this year by a farmer.

A party from Victoria University of Wellington's Maori studies department spent a week excavating the site in May, finding about 80 bones.

They were back last weekend, joined by Whanganui Regional Museum natural history curator Mike Dickison, when about 40 more bones plus fragments were dug up.

"It's really quite exciting," he said. "From our point of view it was about recovering the bones."

The bones found were mainly leg bones, because of their durability, as well as claws and toe bones.

"It's just that those bones are the strongest," Dr Dickison said.

"These bones are not in particularly fabulous condition. They were falling apart even as we were trying to get them out."

Three species were found: giant moa, bush moa and Mantell's moa. Dr Dickison said they were the same moa found at the Makirikiri swamp near Wanganui, which suggested there was once the same very thick forest and vegetation stretching from the edge of the volcanic plateau to almost the Wanganui coast.

The birds had likely become trapped in the swampy land and although there was a large number in a confined area, they probably hadn't all come to rest there at the same time.

"They weren't hunted; obviously, there were no humans around. They would've all piled up over a long time."

He expected there could be at least 1000 years in age between them.

"What was really cool for the students was going from scraping layer upon layer to seeing bones emerge. To them this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Dr Dickison said the next step would be working out how to store the bones safely, carbon dating and DNA testing.

"It was really good that the farmer here knew what to do and contacted [archaeologists and paleontologists]."

The team will probably make one last trip to excavate the site this year.

By Zaryd Wilson of the Wanganui Chronicle

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