Art. X.—Description of the Moa Swamp at Hamilton.
[Read before the Otago Institute, 12th October, 1874.]
Some four years ago, one of the company called the Cornish Gold Mining Company, when cutting peat, uncovered a few bones, and thinking it rather strange that so many should be together, he came to me and related his discovery.
I immediately went to the place and sunk a hole 4 feet square, out of which I took 56 leg bones, and others in proportion, and then had not bottomed it in consequence of water. I at once saw the importance of the discovery.
Knowing that it was on the Cornishmen's claim I said nothing about it, thinking that they might move their pegs, and that I would then see what could be done. I believe this was long before Dr. Haast's discovery of a similar nature in Canterbury. In December, 1873, I found that the company, in pegging off a new claim, had left the pit outside their boundary.
I then called the attention of the editor of the Mount Ida Chronicle to the deposit. He inserted a note in his paper; the daily Times copied it; Captain Hutton's eye met it; and on the 15th of January, 1874, he was on the ground, when he made arrangements with me to commence researches.
I found it to be a dry lagoon of a slightly oblong shape, 45 by 50 feet, situated on the lower edge of a flat piece of ground.
For some 200 yards on the sides and upper end the ground was quite level.
The lower alluvial stratum of the flat, as well as of the spurs surrounding it, is, for a depth of from 10 to 30 feet, composed chiefly of water-worn quartz pebbles. The lagoon is from 1 to 5 feet deep, gradually sloping in from the rim of the basin to a point in the north-east quarter, which was near the centre of the bone deposit, and which appeared to have been a spring up to the time that the water had been drawn off by cuttings in the Cornishmen's claim. Notwithstanding this cutting, within 30 yards of my hole, and 20 feet deep, the water rose 1 foot when tapped, and stands there still. The basin lies in a bed of bluish sandy micaceous clay, which clay is from 2 to 8 feet deep, and rests on the gravel spoken of above, which, according to the face in the claim, must run 20 or 25 feet deeper. The surface of the lagoon, before being disturbed, was rather higher than the surrounding surface, and consisted of from 1 to 2 feet of black peat mixed with a blackish silt which rested on and was mixed with the bones to the very bottom.
The bottom of the lagoon is lined about 1 foot thick with a fine whitish clay, very soft, and somewhat elastic.
In streaks and patches in this clay a red substance occurs at from 1 to 3 inches in thickness.
The red streaks could be traced to the spring where, from top to bottom, everything was discoloured with it.
Through the rim of the basin, on the northwest quarter, there has been an outlet, within 1 foot, as deep as the deepest part of the lagoon.
This outlet is filled with peat from top to bottom, showing plainly that the lagoon had an outlet, but no inlet can be found.
It appears to me that the basin must have been formed whilst it was yet under water near the shore of a great lake.
The spring water rising would not have allowed the precipitation of the fine particles which form the blue clay in which the basin is situated, and when the lake receded it cut its outlet to the lowest ground.
The bones were deposited principally in the north-east part of the lagoon, on a space exactly the shape of a half-moon, 40 feet from point to point, 18 feet across the centre, and varying from 2 to 4 feet deep. Out of this small space there were, when packed, 7 tons weight, and if half be allowed for packing material, it would leave 3 1/2 tons of bones, and we judged that about half were thrown away as being too much decayed for any practical use. They lay in every imaginable complication of tangle, which Captain Hutton most comprehensively described by saying, “There is no bone on the top.” The greater part of them were so completely decayed that it would be impossible to make even an approximate estimation of the number of birds that had fallen in this place, and centuries must have passed whilst they were in course of accumulation. However, Mr. Edmonds and myself consulted on the matter, and concluded that there could not have been less than 400.
There were no bones of young birds near the top of the deposit. This I will account for hereafter.
There were also a large number of bones that had been broken and healed. Also a considerable number of the extinct goose (Cnemiornis), a few of the eagle (Harpagornis), a few reptiles, several of different species of small birds, and a single jawbone of a rat. A disease of the foot appeared to have been very prevalent amongst them, as a great number of the joints presented unmistakable indications of rot, so much so that some of the toe joints had even grown together. On the whole they were in every stage of decay, from sound bones down to bone-dust, sound on the top, and the deeper the more decayed.
In the north-east part of the lagoon, close to the edge, in the very shallowest
part of the deposit, there was a patch of pelves, with very few other bones mixed with them. This I shall account for further on.
A great quantity of quartz gravel and smooth pebbles occurred amongst the bones and in the shallowest parts of the deposit, under a pelvis or breast bone, which had not been disturbed; they lay in bunches, just as though they had been placed there with a pint measure.
There was no gravel in the lagoon except amongst the bones, and no small gutter or water-course could be found by which it might have come in. There were five or six smooth quartz stones, from one to two pounds each, lying under the bones on the soft clay, and one piece of rock, 10lbs. or 12lbs. weight, lying higher up on a firmer bottom. Also several pieces of split sticks were found on the bottom, which I laid by, but some person must have taken them away for fuel.
So numerous have been the opinions given and theories advanced regarding the cause of this deposit, that I shall be obliged to make a passing note of them all, in order that I may the more clearly lay before you my humble views on the subject.
As being brought together by water appears to be a favourite theory, I shall first endeavour to show, by the following reasons, that such is not within the bounds of probability.
It is quite patent that water could not have lodged them there without there having been a channel and a strong current, and even so, they must have been brought a long distance for such a large number to be collected together.
There being no inlet through the rim of the basin, and no watercourse to be traced in any direction as a feeder, I cannot see how water could possibly have lodged the bones there. It certainly would have left some trace as to where it came from.
The pit being on nearly a level flat, it would be an outrage on human reason to suppose the bones to have come tumbling in from every direction to this one small hole, and none of them have lodged in any of the numerous lagoons surrounding it, all of which I have searched in vain to find bones or the red oxide. Water moving with force enough to carry and place these massive bones in such a heap would not have allowed the light silt or sediment to have precipitated, but would have carried it onward, and instead of light silt, we would have found amongst the bones coarse shingle, roots of wood, every description of débris, and even boulders.
The greater part of the bones would have been ground to dust, and those that remained would have shown unmistakable signs of having travelled a rough journey; but the bones presented not the slightest appearance of having been waterworn, or even moved from the place where they first fell. Even bones not larger than a sail-needle were quite perfect, and would it not be
madness to suppose that bones of this description would tumble along on the bottom of a gully, amongst stones of various size and weight, and not be broken or ground to powder. It appears to me that even to imagine this deposit to have been made by water would be to imagine an impossibility.
You might ask me how then, did the fine gravel and pebbles come amongst the bones, and why was it so evenly distributed through the greater part of the deposit? I answer, by one of two ways: It has either been brought by the water from the bed of gravel underneath, or has been in the bodies of the birds when they fell. I must say that, for the following reasons, it almost amounts to a conviction with me that the latter was the case. Considering that immediately over the spring, for a depth of 3 feet, the bones were packed in as tight as though they had been trampled in by horses, I fail to see how the pebbles and gravel could have been forced up by the water. Again, this gravel being deposited in small bunches or heaps on the top, where they mostly occurred, and as those bunches were invariably sheltered from top disturbance by a pelvis or breast bone, it appears most reasonable to me to suppose that these deposits came in from the top. Where these bunches were sheltered, or could not be disturbed from the top, they lay as they had dropped, but where unsheltered they became scattered and equally distributed amongst the bones. The disturbing causes I shall explain presently. Again, it is a remarkable fact that in the bogs and peat, where the sluicers came on large bones, this peculiar white gravel always occurred; in no other place in the claim was it to be found mixed with the peat. I have myself cut peat in the same place, and do not recollect having seen a particle of gravel. Furthermore, it is generally remarked that about the ranges where the remains of the Moa are found these white pebbles are almost invariably in close proximity.
However, I must leave this phenomenon, as requiring more light for a solution.
I must confess that when first commencing to open up the pit I could see no other cause for the deposit of bones than that savages had placed them there. But during further progress of the work I was involuntarily obliged to abandon my favourite theory.
It is true this hypothesis seems very possible, and even feasible, and many reasons can be adduced to show that this might have been the case, but when all the arguments are summed up, they stand unsupported by a single fact in connection with the subject under consideration, for not the slightest indication of human agency could be detected during the whole course of exhumation. If these bones had passed through the hands of savages, the rude stone implements used by them in those early periods, for the cutting of flesh and the breaking of bones, would have left some marks. Amongst so many hundred bones some of them would have borne the marks of a sharp edge, a hack, a
scratch, or a fracture. Some of them would have been split or chipped, or even broken to pieces for the marrow—that is, if they had marrow in their bones—and as they were a flightless and even wingless bird I believe it would be difficult to prove that their bones did not at least contain a little oily matter, which would be a sufficient inducement for the savage to break them and suck it out. But to grant that they had none does not alter the force of the argument. The pelves are so peculiarly formed on the inside, with covered-in hollows, that each one must have contained enough succulent matter to feed half a dozen savages. This the savages would not have allowed to be wasted, and they could not get it out without splitting or breaking the bones in pieces In my view it is conclusive that if savages were the agents there would not have been a whole pelvis in the entire deposit. Again, we know with what extreme partiality savages regard the brain of man or beast; this proclivity, I believe, is universal with all the savages in the world. I know that amongst the scores of tribes that I have travelled through in different countries, and in several instances lived for some time amongst, I have never known them to lose the brain of the smallest bird or quadruped. They would invariably break the skull and suck out the brain or eat skull and all. Now amongst 60 or 70 skull bones that I obtained there was not one that appeared to have been broken for such a purpose. Where the cavity of the brain had been opened it was easy to tell that natural decay had been the cause.
Although I could adduce reasons for supposing that they might throw large bones into the waterhole, still I cannot see what would cause them to gather up bones about their camp not larger than sail needles, carry them to a waterhole, and throw them in.
Again, during the long time that must have elapsed to make such a large deposit, perhaps many hundred years, and the many thousands of times that the tribes and the different generations of tribes would have frequented this lagoon, it is quite rational to suppose that some relic, some toy or trinket, some implement, some weapon, or bones of man or dog (as Dr. Hector says they had dogs) would accidentally have fallen in the waterhole, and remained to be taken out with the general deposit.
As regards the burnt appearance of a great number of the bones, I am decidedly of opinion that it was caused by the red earth, or oxide, as it was only where they lay in contact with this earth that they presented such an indication.
The split sticks found under the bones were not sufficiently indicative of human agency to cause remark. How the half-dozen round stones and the single large stone got there I must leave a problem.
The theory of the birds having been bogged appears extremely problematical to me.
There was only about one foot of soft clay under the bones, and in some places the bottom was quite hard.
Even allowing that it was possible for some of the first birds that got in to stick in that thin layer of clay, when the bottom became covered and firmly packed in with bones to the thickness of one foot upwards, their feet could not settle down in the mud. This layer of bones of all sizes would be the same as if small pieces of wood and brush had been firmly packed in together, thus a solid bottom would have been formed, and I cannot see how it would be possible for any more to stick fast.
Again, there was a large number of goose bones in the deposit, and which appeared to be most plentiful near the top, and for geese to get bogged in a waterhole with a solid bottom of bones is something that needs a more intellectual comprehension than my own to understand. Then, again, the lay of the bones would, to a great extent, indicate the way in which they were deposited.
We cannot help supposing that if birds of this immense size and weight had been stuck fast in the mud, the lower end of the long thigh bones, as well as of the feet bones, would, as a rule, have been pressed deepest in the mud, and as the flesh rotted away they would have remained so. They would have to be pressed in very deep and firm to hold a bird, which was, perhaps, as strong as a horse.
For information on this point I took the lay of a number of bones, in a space of about 4 feet, from top to bottom, with the following result:—
Thigh Bones (Tibia).
|Ankle end lowest||26|
|Ankle end highest||15|
Feet Bones (Metatarsus).
|Claw end lowest||13|
|Claw end highest||11|
The difference, you will observe, is so trifling that no basis for a calculation can be formed.
Then, again, supposing them to have been bogged, it would have been a natural result for some of them to have got in this trap when in a state of gestation, and egg-shells would have been mixed with the bones. I instituted the most scrutinizing search for them, and told the boy that I would cover
with shilling pieces all the egg-shells that he could find, and notwithstanding this close scrutiny, not the slightest piece of an egg-shell did we find.
Further, all animals have a remarkable instinct for avoiding such places of danger; in fact, very often I have seen man, with his boasted knowledge, rush into places where he could only extricate himself with the greatest difficulty, when the animal that he was in pursuit of would go round.
Again, if these bog holes served as Moa traps they are traps that have been in existence as long as the Moa, and it does not seem possible to me for the Moa to have got a standing on the earth and increased when the earth was full of traps to destroy them.
Many people think that the Maoris burnt the country for the purpose of destroying the Moa, which, they say, carried off the children and ate them. With this opinion I do not agree, for the following reasons:—
First, if we can judge from the anatomy of the bird, from the shape of its beak, the form of its claws, and its general structure, we can come to no other conclusion than that it was not a bird of prey or flesh-eater. It could not with its straight bill tear a carcass into pieces.
Again, to make a wanton destruction of food, is not known to have been the custom of savages anywhere in the world.
In the great American buffalo country, which I have travelled through, the savages have a law which they strictly enforce, and with some tribes under severe penalties, that any savage who wounds a buffalo, though he may be amongst thousands, must not shoot an arrow in, or attempt in any way to kill another, until he has captured the one he wounded.
In the valley of the Sacramento they were never known to take more salmon than they wanted for present use, except when they were laying in their winter's stock.
When the old Eastern States were a wilderness the natives would not kill a young fawn, or disturb a bird whilst incubating, and would not knowingly destroy any animal in a state of gestation.
Even the low grade of savages in Victoria never kill more opossums than will supply them for a day or two.
So if the savages of New Zealand made a wholesale slaughter of the Moa by firing the country, burning and rushing them into waterholes by hundreds to die and rot, all I can say is they must have differed from every other type of savage in the known world.
If we can draw any conclusion from their allowing the few pigs (given to them by Captain Cook) to multiply and spread over the whole island, we could not do them the injustice of even supposing that they would wantonly destroy their chief source of subsistence by burning the country, driving their noble
game from existence, and reducing themselves to a comparative state of starvation.
But, say some, this was their mode of capturing them for food.
My answer is, then they would have taken them out of the waterhole, and the bones, instead of being found where they were, would have been scattered about the surface near their camping ground, or, if thrown into the pit, would have shown some marks of having been handled.
From the great preponderance of opinion in favour of fire as the agent, we would almost be led to think that this country had once been a perfect Gehenna. They say fire could occur from natural causes without the agency of savages, as by lightning, by meteors, by spontaneous combustion, and by volcanos. All this may be possible, but let us consider the circumstances attending such phenomena.
First, it being only in the chapter of accidents that fire would occur from such causes, we should naturally suppose they would be of very rare occurrence, so much so that we could not rationally suppose that the same thing would occur over and over again, often enough to cause such frequent slaughtering of birds in this small waterhole as to pack in their bones to a depth of from 2 to 4 feet deep.
Again, it would be very extraordinary for fire to surround any part of a country, and thus close the birds in.
Fire almost invariably runs in a face, and not fast enough to overtake birds with such long legs, that is if they were at all inclined to use them, and if anything would give them an inclination to use them it would be fire. Then, in such a case, for them to stop, gather in a small waterhole, and allow them-selves to be thus smothered, would manifest an amount of stupidity that none of the brute creation has been known to possess. But, for argument's sake, allowing such to have been the case, for about 400 birds of this large size to have been roasted in so small a compass in one mob would be a physical impossibility, inasmuch as they would have made a pile 50 or 60 feet high and the unlikelihood of the same cause occurring often enough, with such long intervals, to complete such a work by tens or twenties, makes it appear so unnatural and inconsistent to me that I can only look on it as a vagary.
Again, as fire only occurs in the dry summer season, this would be the time of gestation, and the same as in the case of being bogged, we would expect egg-shells, not the smallest particle of which (as I have said before) could we find. Further, if fires were so frequent there would have been left about the surface pieces or particles of charcoal; this would, by the wind and sudden showers of rain, have made its way with other silt to the pit, but the same as in the case of the egg-shells, we failed to detect the smallest speck.
In view of all this I cannot possibly see how this deposit of bones could be made through the agency of fire.
The occcurrence of a poison spring is quite a favourite theory with several, but, as practical observation could not determine anything in this respect, I am sorry to say that I am not in a position to throw any light on the subject. I know that such springs do exist at the present time; and although it might be within the bounds of possibility for the water to lose its poisonous property and become wholesome water, yet it looks to be such an extraordinary and improbable change, that it scarcely appears to me worth discussing.
In 1849 I recollect having seen a spring that was called in my guide book “Arsenical Spring.” As for any scientific facts concerning it—I am not in a position to make a statement. All I can say is that it is situated near the Rocky Mountains of America, on the route to California, discovered by John C. Fremont, and called the South Pass.
That the spring was poisonous I can vouch for from the fact that when I passed it there were lying in and around it 50 or 60 dead cattle, mules, and horses; none appeared to have got more than 50 yards away before falling; some lay in the water, and some half out. The water was limpid and, if I recollect right, of a bluish tint. Being in a hurry to make the next camping ground, as well as afraid that some of my own animals might get to it, after a very short stop I hurried away, and this is all I can tell you about it.
Alkali springs, or rather lagoons, as well as hot, boiling, and cold mineral springs, I passed in hundreds.
Now, as regards the spring in this bone pit having been poisonous, I think it just possible and worth investigating; and the only way I can see is for you to carefully analyse the earth I send you and see if any poisonous substances remain. *
A minute investigation of natural causes and effects is, in my view, the only rational way of coming to a satisfactory solution of this great Moa problem. And, in order to fully explain my views, I shall commence by stating that in my opinion the cause of the deposit of bones at this place and the cause of the extinction of the Moa was one and the same. I cannot, therefore, very well confine myself to one subject without running into the other, hence it will perhaps be as well for me to make one subject of it.
That the Moa once existed we can place as a fact; we know that by its remains. That it does not exist now we can place as another fact; this its absence proves. That it could not now exist in this country there is, in my view, abundant proof to place as a third fact.
[Footnote] * Dr. Black has analysed the “red earth” from the spring, and finds that it consists entirely of peroxide of iron and clay, without a trace of arsenic or sulphur, or anything that would indicate that it had been deposited by a thermal spring.—F.W.H.
Thence it follows that the conditions forbidding their existence at the present time must have been the cause of their extinction, and in the course of their extinction their bones accumulated in this pit.
From facts that have come under my personal observation it appears to me that the Moa existed in extremely remote periods; so much so that my limited knowledge of the sciences will not furnish me with words to name the periods I refer to. The features of this country unmistakably indicate that it has at some remote period been a succession of lakes and islands. Now, at whatever time you place that period, I believe the Moa then existed. Immediately above Roxburgh, along the Molyneux, there is a flat, or terrace, four miles long by one mile wide; it has evidently been a lake, from the fact that the whole flat is a bed of shingle, to a depth in some places of 40 feet, and the same kind of deposit being found along the entire length of the Molyneux goes to show that it has been brought down by the river, lodged in this lake or basin, and formed a level surface under the water until such time as the obstructions below Roxburgh were removed; then the river gradually cut a channel through the flat, as well as many feet down into what we unscientific men call “bed-rock.”
Some ten years ago, when searching for gold, I was driving a tunnel from the water's edge on this bed-rock, and under about 40 feet of shingle, on the very rock bottom, I came on the skeleton of a Moa.
I debated the subject in my own mind, as well as conversed with several intelligent men, as to how it possibly could have got there, and we could come to no other conclusion than that the carcass had been brought down by the rapid current of the river, and when it came in the still water of the then lake it sank to the bottom. That bottom being the bed-rock, and the 40 feet of shingle over the skeleton, would go to show that the lake was yet in its earliest period, as the filling-in process appears to have been just then commencing.
The same summer I was sinking a shaft on quite a level piece of ground, about half-way up Conroy's Gully, in the Dunstan district, and I went through a sort of ashy-looking clay all the way to the bed-rock, which was 20 feet deep, and on the rock I found pieces of Moa egg-shells, which I have now in my house.
From these facts I cannot but believe that the Moa existed in far earlier periods than is generally supposed. I shall now state a fact that has also come under my observation, as being strong circumstantial evidence that at least in this locality the extinction of the Moa took place far anterior to any time yet mentioned by any one.
I find below a certain level, that would leave the whole Maniototo plains under water, there are no Moa-bones to be found, with the exception of about
the mouths of the burns coming in from the hills, where the bones have been brought down by freshets. This is easy to determine by their waterworn appearance. This level would come to within one mile of Hamilton, a little below the place called “The Fortifications.” The Sowburn would have been under water, the water would have been up to the mouth of Puketoitoi, at Murison's and Naseby would have been just above the shore of the lake.
For about six miles I have examined the banks of the Sowburn, where it has cut a channel through the plain, with banks on one side or the other from 5 to 15 feet high, giving a splendid chance to see whether there are bones in the soil. I have also examined the banks of the Pigburn for the same distance, as well as a tail-race, one mile long, cut up from the Taieri near the Hamilton and Naseby crossing, and in all these banks I have yet to find the first Moa-bone. Equally unsuccessful was I in searching the banks of several burns on the other side of the Taieri.
I have crossed these plains in several different places, and do not recollect ever having seen a Moa-bone below the level spoken of.
I have also inquired of several shepherds who live on the plain, and who have walked over every acre of it, and none of them recollect having seen a Moa-bone below the level I have mentioned.
Even should an isolated skeleton be found it could be rationally accounted for by a carcass having been brought down into the lake by a burn, floated out and sunk. Now what does this fact point to?
The only answer I can give is that the Moa was extinct in this locality when the whole Maniototo Plain, from the level spoken of, was yet under water; and I am quite certain that investigation will yet determine that there are many more plains presenting the same indication.
My conclusions were on this point, however, greatly shaken when I subsequently found a seam of lignite at the water's edge of the Taieri River, for the supposition that the birds had been extinct long enough for this lignite to be formed could not be entertained. It then suddenly occurred to my mind that some six or seven years previously I had sunk a prospecting shaft 60 feet deep at the foot of the hills, not far from the lignite, and that the strata all lay at an angle of about 75 degrees, pitching down towards the river.
From this I came to the conclusion that it was not only possible, but quite probable, that this lignite had been formed at a far higher level, and had, in a comparatively recent period, sunk or slipped to its present level.
That this country was, at a not very distant period, a great deal warmer than it is now, I believe is not disputed, for there is irrefragable proof to that effect, and also that it has gradually cooled to what we find it.
Now, as there is incontrovertible proof that the bird flourished some thousands of years ago, when the temperature of the earth and atmosphere
was so much higher, it is easy to show that they could not multiply, or even exist, under the present temperature of the elements in this country.
Judging from the warm time in which they flourished most, as well as from their enormous size, and from the class of birds to which they belong, we can scarcely suppose that they incubated their own eggs, but that they must (like many species of birds at present in warm countries) have allowed the heat of the earth and atmosphere to do the work of incubation.
The Moa was not at all adapted for hatching its own eggs. Birds that do so make great use of their wings in covering their eggs; in fact, in the act of hatching, wings appear to be indispensable, without them the heat of the body could not be kept in the nest, the cold air would circulate under through the body, scatter the heat, and kill the vitality of the egg; in fact, it is questionable whether a fowl without wings could produce the first stages of incubation in an egg.
Now the Moa is said to have been entirely wingless, if so, it is certain that they did not sit on their eggs.
Again, their enormous size and weight would make it a very awkward piece of work to sit on a nest of eggs, the shells of which are not more than the twentieth of an inch thick. Fancy a bullock or a horse of 400 lbs. or 500 lbs. weight getting down on such a nest of eggs, and you have a very good picture of the gigantic Dinornis doing the same. That the warmth of the earth and atmosphere incubated the eggs appears to me indisputable, and if an approximate period can be found when the earth and atmosphere became too cold to do so I place that as the commencement of the Moa's decline.
This, I am aware, would not take place at the same time all over the country. It would, of course, depend on the altitude. Here, I am told, we are at an altitude of about 2,000 feet, where the cold may have stopped their increase, and put an end to them many hundreds of years before the same cause would destroy them in a place like the valley of the Molyneux, where even at Clyde the river is only 600 feet above sea-level. Also, the further north, as in the North Island, the longer they would have held out.
Even at the present time, in many places in the country, as in the sand banks of the Molyneux, the atmosphere in the day time would be sufficiently warm to hatch the egg, but the cold night air would place life beyond resuscitation. When the frost and snow of winter began to set in, though far milder than now, it would have distressed the Moa, as on account of its great size it could not find shelter like smaller birds, hence it would select places where it found the most warmth.
The spring water in the bone-pit being of the same temperature as the earth, and far above freezing point (in fact, it may have been a thermal spring), when all round the bird could not put down its foot without being bitten with frost,
or without placing it in snow and ice, what would be more natural for them than to step in to this comparatively warm water, which, to some extent, would relieve their suffering from cold in their lower extremities. Thus, the period when frost and snow began to set in I place as the commencement of the deposit of bones in this pit. The accumulation would have been very gradual, perhaps for centuries, and the periodical deposits would only have increased at the same rate as the frost and snow. This process continuing, until not even in the most favoured places would their eggs hatch, and the last of their race were, therefore, doomed to annihilation, a period would arrive which must have been with the poor birds a time of indescribable suffering. Thus afflicted with pain, famishing with hunger (as whatever their food was it lay deep under the snow-mantle of the earth), and finding cruel nature arrayed against them, pinching their bodies with piercing winds, from which they had no shelter, and cutting their feet with ice and frost, were it only as an alleviation of pain when dying, I can see nothing more natural than for them to have plunged into this spring. The water being of the same temperature as the earth, would feel quite warm to them, and there being no inducement for them to get out, as their food was cut off, they would settle in deeper and deeper, and remain till numbness and hunger put an end to their suffering.
Hence I account for the bones being soundest on the top, as they would have been deposited so much later. Hence, also, I account for there being no bones of young birds on the top, as it was long after incubation ceased that the old family was gathered to its resting place. Hence I account for the absence of egg-shells, as these deposits only took place in the winter season, which was never the breeding season with the birds. And by the trampling round of the birds, when in the spring, I account for the equal distribution generally of the gravel amongst the bones; the trampling being the disturbing cause from which alone some bunches of gravel from the gizzards escaped by being covered with a breast bone or pelvis. The patch of pelves I can only account for in this way:—That as year after year, when the water was yet deep, a few carcasses were decomposed on the top of the water, the heavy limbs would fall off and sink, and the pelves being very porous, with, perhaps, skin and thick feathers dried on the top by the sun, would lie on the surface of the water until driven up to the edge of the lagoon by the fierce south-west winds which still prevail here.
It might be asked, Why were all the bones in the one peculiarly shaped spot? why were they not distributed through the lagoon?
The only reason I can see is that the lagoon was there centuries before the deposit commenced, and probably before the Moa existed; and as the south-west side is the hill side, and the side from which the winds prevailed and surface water would come, it became filled in with dust and light silt, from that side
first, up to the deep half-moon-shaped spot where the spring would not allow the silt to precipitate, but would carry it off through the outlet, and that when the bone deposit commenced the waterhole was in this half-moon shape. If it is asked, why are there no bones in the surrounding lagoons? my answer is, that as they are all (as far as I have examined) surface lagoons, they would have been frozen over when the cold drove the birds into the spring water which never froze, and, as I have previously remarked, perhaps thermal.
As for the geese, it appears to me, from the skeleton, that they have been as much a land bird as a water-fowl. The bones of their body are not much larger than those of the domestic goose, especially the breast bone and pelvis. The keel of the breast bone is scarcely more than rudimentary. This differs from the breast bone of any water-fowl that has ever come under my observation. However, those better versed in ornithology than myself should settle this point. The hip and leg bones, in size and length, are immensely disproportionate to the bones of the body, that is, for a water-fowl, and are in every particular (excepting the loophole in the hind part of the foot joint) proportionately the same as that of the Moa. If water-fowl, their feet, when swimming, would have struck some 20 inches under the water, which, according to my limited knowledge of water-fowl, would have been altogether apart from the ordinary course of nature.
I must here record my humble opinion that they were not aquatic fowl. Therefore the same causes that extirpated the Moa would have exterminated them. Hence their bones in the pit with those of the Moa. Further, I believe that had they been transferred to a warmer climate at the time of their decline we would yet have had the noble birds living.
As for the few eagle bones, and bones of other small birds found in the deposit, I would think that (on account of the attraction offered to flesh-eaters by this long-standing meatshop) chance would be quite sufficient to account for their presence.
As the rat bone was found in the debris that had been wheeled out of the pit, and taken from the top to the bottom, it may have come from very near the surface where we found that rats had been burrowing in the bones; therefore the presence of rat bones in the pit cannot be taken as a proof that they were deposited contemporaneously with the Moa bones.
In order to give you a clear conception of the intensity of cold at some seasons of the year in the neighbourhood of the bone-pit, as well as to support my theory, I would refer you to the fact that in the winter of 1873 our mail-man in coming over the ranges from the Hyde and Kyeburn Roads, past the bone-pit, got his feet so badly frost-bitten that he was two months in the hospital at Naseby in consequence.
In 1866 there was a fall of snow here 2 feet deep, and the ground did not
show for six weeks, whilst the ice on the lagoons was 5 inches thick. Fancy a Moa bird struggling for existence in such a time, foot-frozen and nothing to eat, and you must see that even a spring would be a haven to it.
Well may their bones be found about the country in clusters, where, for warmth, they have crowded together, and either been frozen, smothered, or starved, or, perhaps all three when overtaken by such storms.
The bones of thousands of sheep and wild pigs are found about the country deposited in like manner through the same cause.
Dr. Hector * mentions one fact, however, which is strong presumptive evidence in favour of my theory. He says, “The greatest number of Moa bones were found where rivers debouch on the plains.” The same feature marks the creeks from the mountain slopes. This strengthens my views as to the Moa flourishing most at a very remote period, a period when nearly all these plains in the country were lakes.
The bones, being brought down by freshets, where the creeks debouched in the lakes would become embedded, and thus age after age continue to accumulate. But the doctor infers that these places were the camping grounds of the Moa-hunters, and that they caused the bones to be deposited there.
At Lake Wakatipu the doctor takes another view, and thinks the heaps of bones found there by him were caused by the “destroying element” fire. With all due deference to the learned gentleman's opinion, I cannot subscribe to his views, inasmuch as the bones being in heaps, and close under a precipitous ledge of rocks, it would be the very place that the Moas would have sought to shelter them from a cold snow storm, but notwithstanding they perished in clusters. This occurring periodically, perhaps for many years, would rationally account for the many distinct skeleton heaps found by the doctor in that place.
As to whether there are more bone pits of the same description, I say yes; they will be found in all parts of the country where living springs occur in places where the Moa made its haunts. But, as some springs may have spread over more ground and formed boggy places, just in proportion will the bones be more scattered, and they will not be found (with the exception perhaps of a few isolated skeletons) far from the fountain head, for the reason that the water would not go far from the fountain head before cooling and freezing, when there would be no inducement for the birds to go in. Other places where they will be found very plentiful, though more scattered, will be about spring creeks, such as Puketoitoi. The bones will be scattered and waterworn on account of freshets disturbing them, and perhaps, as at Puketoitoi,
[Footnote] * See Dr. Hector's paper on this subject, read at the Otago Institute, September, 1871.—Trans. N.Z. Inst., Vol. IV., p. 115.
having brought them down on the edge of the plain, but it will yet be proved that the original deposits were near the source of the creeks where the water would have been warm and free from ice. It may not be out of place to mention (although I am not writing about eels) that at the present time there is a creek which empties into the Taieri River, at the very head of the Maniototo Plain, that for some distance from its source never freezes. The eels congregate there in June and remain all the winter. This proves that even the eels find relief from cold in spring water, and it is quite apparent that the Moa would have found even more relief than the eels, inasmuch as the contrast between cold and heat would not be so great between the water of the Taieri and that of the creek as it would be between hard frozen ice and snow and the spring water.
This is my theory as plainly as I am able to put it, and I should not consider it fair for any person to criticise it from a literary point of view, as I make no pretensions to being a scientist, nor yet even to having had a pass-able education, which is more my misfortune than my fault; my only guide is observation and the study of cause and effect.