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Volume 28, 1895
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Art. LXVII.—On the Discovery of Moa-remains on Riverton Beach.

[Read before the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, 7th August, 1895.]

On the 13th March, 1895, Messrs. Graves, Brodrick, and Ewen discovered the skeleton of a moa [skeleton I.] on the sandhills about eight miles from Invercargill, near the Invercargill-Riverton beach road, and about one mile from the sea. These sandhills are constantly shifting with every gale that blows. Islands of sand are dotted about, held together by flax-bushes, and marking the original level of the hills. The bones had been buried beneath 8ft. or 10ft. of sand, and were consequently in a very fair state of preservation. Only a portion of the pelvis was visible; the rest of the skeleton was buried in the wet sand which had not dried sufficiently to be affected by the wind. The sand was scraped away, and, after an hour's work, the whole skeleton was exposed to view. The bird appeared to be lying as it had died, its legs doubled under its body, and its neck stretched out on the sand. The pelvis and ribs were brittle, but the leg-bones and vertebræ were in very fair condition. All the bones were gathered together and removed to Invercargill. Unfortunately, the jolting of the buggy over the hills damaged the tender bones and broke the sternum to pieces. However, the skull and larger bones arrived in safety. In a day or two they were dry enough to be packed, and were placed together in a box to be brought to Christchurch. The gizzard-stones were found with the skeleton.

A few days later, on the 18th March, two members of the same party discovered another almost-complete skeleton [skeleton II.] about half a mile from the spot where the first was found. As in the first instance, only the back of the pelvis was visible, the rest of the bird being buried in wet sand as before. The skull was a particularly good specimen, and the ribs and smaller bones were carried to Invercargill with less damage than on the former occasion.

About two hundred tracheal rings were found with this skeleton. The ground around was searched for other skeletons, but no other bones could be found. About 300 yards away a considerable quantity of egg-shell was, however, gathered together, enough to fill a pint measure. It is quite possible that, as the sand shifts in the course of time, other skeletons will be exposed to view.

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Upon digging down about 2ft. we found some rotten flax-sticks, and a bed of water-worn shingle. Probably the birds had been drowned and washed down this old watercourse, became stranded, and were gradually buried beneath the accumulating sand.

It has been stated that in the early part of this century the moa was hunted by the Maoris in Southland. I am of opinion that this statement is not correct, as Captain William Stevens, who was one of the earliest settlers in Riverton, states that he believes the moa has been extinct in Southland for many years, equal to several generations of the Maori race.

They must at one time have been numerous, as the larger bones have been found in many parts of the district. In this connection Captain Stevens has written me an interesting letter, which I give in full. Writing on the 25th May, 1895, he says, “I arrived here in the first week of 1843, and at that time there was a deal of talk among the natives about the moa, but I could never find that any of them had ever seen one—at least, a live one. What I heard about the moa was just handed down by tradition from father to son. I can give you some names of the oldest Maoris I knew, but their ages I could only guess. The following are the names of a few I was well acquainted with : First, Temarama, aged seventy, father of Topi, present chief of Ruapuke; second, Pekau, about eighty; third, Temoau, about eighty; fourth, Mokau, about eighty; fifth, Pararaoa, about seventy; sixth, Haumai, about eighty-eight. I could mention many more—perhaps fifty more—but they were very old, and too imbecile to be relied on.

Note by Captain F. W. Hutton.

Both of the skeletons referred to above belong to adult individuals of Dinornis maximus, as the following measurements of the leg-bones and skulls will show (measurements in millimetres) :—

[The section below cannot be correctly rendered as it contains complex formatting. See the image of the page for a more accurate rendering.]

Skeleton I. Skeleton II.
Length. Proximal Width. Middle Width. Distal Width. Length. Proximal Width. Middle Width. Distal Width.
Tarso-metatarsus 445 117 61 165 495 124 56 163
Tibio-tarsus 876 201 69 104 889 201 66 108
Femur 391 137 66 160 406 145 66 179
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[The section below cannot be correctly rendered as it contains complex formatting. See the image of the page for a more accurate rendering.]

Dimensions of the Skulls.
Width at Par-occipital Processes. Width at Squamosal Processes. Width at Temporal Fossæ Width at Post-orbital Processes. Distance between Temporal Ridges. Length of Cranial Roof. Height of Cranium. Length of Mandible.
Skeleton I 104 (?) 76 136 43 97 52 222
Skeleton II 94 107 69 134 43 98 53 216

It appears, therefore, that the smaller bird has a broader cranium and slightly longer beak than the larger bird. There are also the following differences between the two skulls: in skeleton I. the basi-occipital is not so deep, and the mamillary tuberosities are much more developed, than in skeleton II.; the par-occipital processes extend further backward, and the supra-occipital ridge projects further over the condyle. The temporal fossæ are rather shallower and narrower than in No. II.; and the squamosal processes are directed more forward. Also, in No. I. the cranium is shorter in the basisphenoidal region than in No. II., a line connecting the points of the post-orbital processes passing close in front of the basipterygoid processes. The pre-maxillæ are longer and considerably broader, and the mandible is longer and more curved downward, in No. I. than in No. II. There are no feather-pits on either skull.

With reference to other parts of the skeleton: In No. I. the toe-bones are smaller and the scapulo-coracoids are stouter than in No. II.; and there are considerable differences in the hæmal ridges of the thoracic vertebræ. The pelves and sterna are too imperfect for comparison.

With No. I. skeleton only seven tracheal rings were found; they were of the hoop-like pattern, but were imperfectly ossified, being open in front, and were too fragile to be preserved. Among the fragments of the sternum I found nine small pieces of egg-shell, which had been picked up by the collectors with the bones. There can, I think, be no doubt but that this egg-shell was inside the bird when it died, and that, consequently, it was a female; for, as the body was found on the sea-shore, it could not have been sitting on a nest. This skeleton has been presented to the Museum by Mr. Ewen.

In No. II. skeleton the atlas vertebra is abnormal, as it has no bony bridges for the vertebral arteries; and the seventh thoracic vertebra (No. 28) appears to have been anchylosed to the pelvic vertebræ, as it is missing. A number of tracheal rings were found with the skeleton, and all are

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of the oval, slender, hoop-like type; there were no thick, tube-like rings.

So far I have merely stated the facts; but it is impossible to avoid making a few speculations as to the meaning of the differences between the two skeletons. These must be due either to (1) specific differences, or to (2) sexual differences, or to (3) individual variation. If the last is the case, we ought to find all sorts of intermediate variations, as well probably as some more extreme than those exhibited by the two skeletons. If, however, the differences are due either to the first or to the second cause they ought to be tolerably constant. If due to sexual differences, the numbers of each type ought to be nearly equal; but, if they are due to specific differences, then one kind might be much more common than another.

The skulls of Dinornis in this Museum are not sufficiently numerous to enable me to form a definite opinion on the subject, but I am inclined to think that there are two types, which are equally numerous, but very different in size.

In confirmation of this view, I would point out that all the peculiar features of the skull of No. I. skeleton (with the exception of the great breadth of the premaxillæ) are also seen in Sir R. Owen's drawing of the skull of the small specimen of D. robustus which was found at Tiger Hill, in Otago, and is preserved in the York Museum. Now, this Tiger Hill specimen was accompanied by four half-grown chicks, so that probably it was a female also.

Perhaps the imperfect ossification of the tracheal rings in skeleton I. is another sexual character.