Art. VII.—Notes on Moa Remains.
[Read before the Otago Institute, 16th September, 1871.]
Dr. Hector, in his paper, refers to certain information which he obtained from me in 1866, relative to the discovery of moa remains in old cooking places on the Maniototo plains. I shall take the opportunity therefore of adding a few notes upon this interesting subject, in the hope that my observations will assist in solving some questions concerning the Moa, which have formed matter of controversy, and which still remain unsettled. Nearly every writer on New Zealand has had something to say about the wingless birds which formerly inhabited the country, but remarks concerning them have been confined chiefly to descriptions of the bones, to the conditions under which they have been found, and to inquiries about the Moa amongst the Maori tribes in the North. It was not until about six months ago, when Dr. Haast delivered his inaugural address to the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, that any attempt, so far as I am aware, has been made to determine the approximate date of the disappearance of the Moa, or to show that the bird was known only to a race of people which is now extinct. (See Art. IV., p. 66.) Dr. Haast has met with great success in his search after moa remains, and mainly through his exertions the Christchurch Museum has acquired probably the finest collection of moa bones and skeletons that can be seen anywhere. In his able and exhaustive address he narrates fully the results of his investigations, and he indicates the conclusions which they have led him to arrive at. He contends that the large birds of New Zealand were the representatives of the gigantic quadrupeds of the northern hemisphere in the post-pliocene period; that New Zealand at the time of the arrival of the Europeans was in the neolithic period, or that of polished stone implements; but that there has been a palæolithic period, or age during which stone and flint implements, rudely fashioned, were used; that the Moa frequented the grassy plains of the interior during the latter period, and was hunted by a people who inhabited these islands before the arrival of the Maoris; and that hunters and hunted have both passed away. He remarks upon the absence of
traditions among the Maoris concerning the Moa, and considers it inconceivable that natives who have traditions going back several hundred years, should have no account of the extinction of their principal means of existence; and he is of opinion that overwhelming evidence can be brought to show that the forefathers of the Maoris not only neither hunted nor exterminated the Moa, but that they knew nothing about it. He addresses himself, in the first place, to the geological evidence which can be brought to bear to determine the age of the Moa. He confesses he has never observed the bones exposed on the surface of the ground, in the same way as he has been informed they frequently occur in Otago. He refers, also, to the small heaps of crop stones that are often met with in the latter province, and he admits that the occurrence of these, together with bones, on the surface of the ground is difficult to account for, when the absence of native traditions concerning the bird is borne in mind. He refers to the careful researches of Colenso and Stack, and he quotes the opinion of the former, who holds that the period of time in which most probably the Moa existed was certainly either antecedent or coetaneous to the peopling of these islands by the present race of New Zealanders. He alludes, also, to the discoveries of Mr. Mantell, and expresses a belief that he was the first to draw the attention of scientific men to the fact that man had been co-temporaneous with the Dinornis. What may be called the second part of his address is taken up chiefly with an account of his investigations of old kitchen-middens and cooking places on the banks of the Little Rakaia. He describes at great length the construction of the former, and the character of the implements and bones he dug up. It is not my intention, however, to follow Dr. Haast in the interesting investigations he made. I have indicated some of the leading points of his exhaustive address, and I must pass on to my own observations. At the foot of Roughbridge, where the Puke-toi-toi creek enters the Maniototo plain, I assisted in forming a station some ten years ago; and although I had had occasion to observe near the coast, and in other parts of the interior, the bones of the Moa, I was at once struck with the frequency of their occurrence at this place, as well as with the excellent state of preservation in which they were found. Scarcely a hole could be dug without some of those remains being exposed; and when the land came to be cultivated, bones and fragments of egg-shells in great number were laid bare by the plough. The bones most frequently picked up under these conditions were those of the feet belonging to the larger species of the Dinornis, and the femur and tibia of the Aptornis—a bird which stood some three feet high, whose remains are rarely met with in other localities. It was not till 1865, however, that any discovery of cooking places was made. These were first observed by my brother, when, in riding along the banks of the creek, he noticed a chain of hollows which he conjectured were Maori ovens
filled up. Further investigation showed that they had been used for cooking the Moa, great quantities of bones being discovered in each oven that was examined. The ovens lay about ten or fifteen yards from the creek, and were covered with about six inches of silt. Mixed with the pieces of half-charred bones were innumerable fragments of moa egg-shells. In some of the cooking places these latter were found in layers, showing that a vast number of eggs must have been consumed as food. And scattered through the ovens were found rude chert implements, many of which bore signs of having been used. Most of these were fashioned like knives, and had been employed, no doubt, to cut the flesh and sinews of the bird. Some heavier implements were also found; one of these was shaped like a cleaver, and had probably been used to break the large bones. In one oven the jaw of a young dog was discovered, mixed up with the bones and knives; and from the same place were taken out several fragments of polished stone implements. A great deal of importance is to be attached to the discovery of the latter under such conditions, as, if it is conceeded that the polished implements and the chert flakes were used by the same people, Dr. Haast's theory of a palæolithic period and a neolithic period for New Zealand will have to be abandoned. The two different kinds of implements have, according to Dr. Haast, been found at the same spot, but he thinks that careful research will prove that they have not been used at the same time nor by the same people. On the banks of the Little Rakaia greenstone adzes and other polished Maori implements have been turned up by the plough; but he explains that it is known that the Maoris frequented the locality on account of it being a favourable fishing ground. In the case of the Puke-toi-toi Creek, however, it is unlikely that the natives ever visited the spot with any other object than that of moa-hunting. There is a small volume of water in the creek, and there being no eels in it there was nothing to attract the natives to the locality. Even such a common article of food as the Unio, a fresh water mollusc, which is to be met with in great quantities in the Taieri River, some four miles distant, does not inhabit the creek. It appears tolerably certain, therefore, that the moa-hunters were the only people who ever visited this encampment, as no known means of sustenance is to be procured nearer than the Taieri River. I think it clearly established, from what I have stated, that the moa-hunters used both polished and rudely fashioned stone implements. The latter were easily made, and must have been of greater service in cutting the flesh of the Moa than any of the polished tools we know of. On the terrace above the ovens, and within about twenty yards of them, was found the place where those rude knives had evidently been manufactured. Traces of fires were to be seen, full of innumerable fragments of chert, and all round the fires broken stone knives could be picked up. A further examination of the debris of those fires which had been
kindled on the flat surface of the terrace, showed that numerous fragments of egg-shell were mixed up with the chips. This looked as if those who were watching the stones, which were being heated to be broken up for knives, had passed away the time by cooking omelettes. There can be no doubt that the egg of the Moa formed a favourite article of food with those hunters, from the frequency of the occurrence of egg-shells in the ovens, and this circumstance very naturally suggested the idea that the extermination of the bird may have been brought about by this cause. The nests would be easily discovered, as the country generally was open and grassy, with patches of low scrub at the foot of the hills. The encampment I have referred to was in the midst of a clump of korokio, burnt patches of which were found on the low grounds in many parts of the interior when the first European settlers occupied the country. Chert knives, some of which bore signs of having been used, have been found scattered over a large area of ground in the vicinity of the encampment, and I should add that several polished stone axes have been found on or near the surface of the ground in the immediate neighbourhood. Upon the whole, my observations have led me to arrive at different conclusions from those of Dr. Haast, Mr. Colenso, and the Rev. Mr. Stack. The former admits, in referring to certain researches of Mr. Mantell in the North Island, that “if further investigations of these interesting localities would prove beyond a doubt that really the bones of man, moa, and dog, with flint chips and true Maori implements, occur together, and have not been mixed up accidentally, the present indigenous race having chosen the same favourable spots for their camping ground as the moa-hunters did before, the question, so far as the Northern Island is concerned, would soon be settled.” I contend that, so far as the interior of this province is concerned, an analysis of the Puke-toi-toi cooking places has proved that the Moa has lived in comparatively recent times, and that the moa-hunters were, in all probability, the progenitors of the race now inhabiting the island. I do not attach much importance to the argument that if the Moa had been alive when Captain Cook visited New Zealand a hundred years ago, such a careful inquirer as the great navigator was must have heard of its existence, and would have alluded to it in his works. This argument can only hold good if it can be shown that Captain Cook visited a locality where moa remains have been found under conditions that would lead to the supposition that they were of comparatively recent date. I think, from the evidence we are in possession of, there is every reason to suppose that the Dinornis has existed within the last hundred years. In some work on New Zealand, I have seen it mentioned that the captain of a whaler who visited the mouth of the Molyneux River about the commencement of the present century, reported that he had seen the bones of the Moa, with the flesh adhering, in the possession of the Maoris, and I think that the
frequent occurrence of bones on the surface throughout the lower Clutha valley, and the freshness of the remains in many other parts of the province, is quite compatible with a belief that the bird was alive at that time. In favour of the hypothesis that the Moa became extinct some five hundred years ago, Dr. Haast quotes the opinion of Colenso and others, who have been unable to find that the Moa has a place in Maori traditions, which go back for many centuries. The theory advanced by those authorities may be a perfectly correct one as regards the North Island, but it can in no way be advanced as an argument why the Moa did not exist in the interior of this province a century ago, or in any other part of the island concerning which the Maoris have no traditions. There can be no doubt that Otago presents a splendid field for palæontological research in this direction, and it is from a careful examination of the caves and cooking places of the interior that we may ultimately hope to have the approximate date of the extinction of the Moa determined. It is from these sources, also, that we may expect to learn something definite about the people who assisted to exterminate it. The recent discoveries of Dr. Thomson and Mr. Arthur in the caves near Clyde, if followed up, may tend to throw considerable light upon the question which has been raised; and it is to be hoped that an effort will be made to expedite investigations in that quarter. Whatever the results of future inquiries may be, I am strongly of opinion that each fresh discovery will tend to show that the theory of palæolithic and neolithic periods in New Zealand is unsustainable; that the Dinornis lived in comparatively recent times, and was hunted by the forefathers of the present aboriginals.