Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 6, 1873
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Notes respecting the Moa caves at Earnscleugh, Otago.

2. The following letter, from Mr. T. H. Cockburn Hood, F.G.S., respecting the caves in Otago where the skin, neck, and feathers of a Moa, and remains of other birds, had been found, was read by Dr. Hector:—

“2nd January, 1874.—I had an opportunity lately of visiting the place where the man found the skin with the feathers of the Moa which you have in the Museum, and am quite convinced that it could not have lain there any great number of years—at all events in the spot where he got it.

“The cavern, formed by the sliding down of a mass of rock, has two main entrances. It is about sixty feet deep to the lowest accessible floor, and there is a narrow fissure leading down to a lower chasm.

“After digging down about a foot, at the very lowest part, in the soft débris of animal matter, droppings, etc. (not particularly dry), I found numbers

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of bones of small birds—paradise ducks, wekas, etc.—in excellent preservation; above them many remains of Moas.

“Dr. Haast wishing to have them, I left them with him. Their only value, I consider, is as evidence that the Moa remains are also very recent, as it seems impossible that such tender bones could have been preserved in this situation for any great lapse of time. Dr. Haast, however, does not agree in this. It must be remembered that the floor of the cavern is not always dry, as supposed; during thaws and in violent rain storms there must be a good deal of water go down, as is evident from the drifted grass sticking to the shelving side of the lowest part of the chasm, evidently come in with water through the fissures. The dust does not consequently incommode one in digging, as usual in caverns where there is much accumulation of old animal matter. The flat ground near had probably been a favourite camping ground, from the quantity of droppings—which are, no doubt, those of the large birds—swept in by the wind, the draught into the cavern being very great, even when a light breeze is blowing. Dr. Thomson and I had good evidence of this.

“At times the Moas, taking shelter under the high rocks at the foot of which the fissure opens, may have slipped down in the snow drifts, which would accumulate there and hide the aperture, and, from its shelving nature as well as narrowness, it would be utterly impossible for them to extricate themselves. This seems to be the most probable cause of the abundance of the remains of the great birds in this place. There is no watercourse that could have swept them in. Certainly the entrance may have become smaller, and the floor may have gone down. Subsidences of masses of the rocks in these hills, from the effect of water, are no doubt constantly occurring; there are many great holes and caverns, but, as it is at present, an Emu once in this particular one could not get out. The skin that you have may possibly have lain for a long time in some higher dry ledge of the rock, and from thence fallen down to where it was lying on the first landing, where it must have been pretty damp at times. Captain Hutton had visited the place a few days previously, and Dr. Thomson showed me the head of a Tuatara they found.

“There is another cavern about 150 yards from this one, but it was impossible for me to get into it without a rope and assistance. I wrote to Captain Hutton to tell him of it, and perhaps the Provincial authorities of Otago will be liberal enough to allow a proper examination of these places to be made. It would require men to bring up all the débris in buckets, and sift it in the light. Laying in the position one has to do, at the bottom of the narrow, low hole, one cannot do much.”

3. “On the teeth of the Leiodon,” by Charles Knight, F.R.C.S.(Transactions, p. 358.)

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Dr. Hector explained that the President's paper was written at his request, as a supplement to his own paper, read at a former meeting, on the Saurian remains lately discovered in the South Island. He had just received a letter from Professor Owen, who anticipated that these discoveries would be most important, as they will probably supply some missing links in the connection between the fossil Saurians found in various parts of the world.

4. “Notes on the Flora of the Province of Wellington; with a List of Plants collected therein,” by John Buchanan, of the Geological Survey of New Zealand. (Transactions, p. 210.)