Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 42, 1909
This text is also available in PDF
(221 KB) Opens in new window
– 354 –

Art. XLV.—The Discovery of Moa-remains on Stewart Island.

[Read before the Otago Institute, 7th December, 1909.]

Some time last year I was informed by Mr. F. W. Murdoch, of Half-moon Bay, that he had discovered the bones of a couple of moas, one larger than the other, in the sandhills at Mason Bay, on the west coast of Stewart Island; and recently he gave a more detailed account of the find to Dr. Cockayne and to myself, in letters, from which the following quotations are made.

The interest of Mr. Murdoch's discovery lies in the fact that this is the first occasion, so far as I have been able to ascertain, that actual evidence of the existence of moas on the island has been produced or recorded, though he states that he has known for some time of fragments of their bones lying about Maori middens.

He writes, “The two skeletons, or remains of skeletons, were lying close together, only a few yards apart, about 400 yards inland from the beach. The gizzard-stones of the larger bird were in evidence, scattered about, but I did not notice any with the small skeleton. Truth to tell, I had not much time at my disposal: it was getting well on towards evening, and I had nearly the whole of that beach to traverse to reach the hut, the bones being near the south end of the beach. Nearly all the bones of the larger bird were there, I should think, with the exception of one of the long leg-bones. The greater part of the skull was there: it I brought home, and a portion of the breast-bone. … I think that some old-time Maoris must have also found those bones, for near by were lying two flakes of stone—not worked stone, but just the ordinary long flakes they used as knives or saws. The missing bone was probably appropriated by them to fashion into fish-hooks and needles.” He suggests that the two birds died at about the same time—they were not killed by the Maoris. “I really think they were mother and chick. The old bird died” [first] “and the young one died later of starvation.”

Mr. Murdoch readily complied with my request to be allowed to make an examination of the bones which he had collected—viz., the femur, tibiotarsus, tarso-metatarsus, the back of the cranium, and two terminal phalanges (or claw-bones). The leg-bones are in a good state of preservation, white and firm, through brittle at the ends; but the cranium is much weathered, and is less satisfactory for identification purposes.

Measurements of the bones, and a comparison with named specimens in this Museum, show that the Stewart Island bird is Euryapteryx (Emeus) crassa, Owen, a species fairly common on the South Island, and very closely allied to E. ponderosa, Hutton. Of the latter Hutton* writes (p. 638), “The leg-bones differ from those of E. crassa more in thickness than in length”; and the figures given below agree very closely with those given by him on page 650, loc. cit., and on page 132, Trans. N.Z. Inst., xxiv. But,

[Footnote] * Trans. N.Z. Inst., xxviii, 1895.

– 355 –

as he gives in one place the “girth” and in another the “width” of the bones at the middle of their length, I have given both measurements, so that a comparison is rendered more easy with his and with Hamilton's account* of an individual skeleton of E. ponderosa. In measuring the length of the tibio-tarsus, the total length, including the cnemial crest, is usually given; but, since this crest is apt to be broken or worn away, I may suggest, perhaps, that it would be better to measure the length from the hinder margin of the articular platform to the lower margin of the internal condyle.

The skull differs from those of E. crassa in our collection in one or two features: the supra-occipital is more nearly horizontal, and when the skull is viewed from above the occipital condyle is visible, whereas in a corresponding view of our skulls it is hidden by the supra-occipital: this may, however, be an individual variation, and, anyhow, the incompleteness of the skull renders this character of less importance for identification than the results obtained from the study of the leg-bones.

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

Femur,— Inches. Millimetres.
Length 10.8 279
Width at mid-shaft 1.9 48
Girth at mid-shaft 6.1 152
Width at distal end 5 127
Length† 20.15 225
Width at mid-shaft 1.9 48
Girth at mid-shaft 5.4 137
Width at distal end 3.5 89
Length 8.75 240
Width at mid-shaft 1.9 48
Girth at mid-shaft 5.2 132
Width at distal end 4.5 115
Width at temporal fossa 2.05 52

The measurements were made by means of craniometrical callipers for width, and between vertical uprights for length.

Mr. Murdoch will, I hope, endeavour to obtain the bones of the smaller individual; but as he remarks, it is very likely that this will be a difficult matter, for they may be concealed again by sand, which had fortunately been blown away by wind just before his previous visit, leaving the bones exposed; for he had often passed the spot before without seeing them. I await with much interest the opportunity to examine them, for they may belong to a young individual of the same species, as Mr. Murdoch believes—which will, of course, easily be confirmed by the state of the bones. Nevertheless, on other occasions when similar suggestions have been made with

[Footnote] * Hamilton, Trans. N.Z. Inst., xxx, 1897, p. 445.

[Footnote] † These numbers are estimated; for a portion of the cnemial crest—probably about ¾ in. (15 mm.)—was broken off: this is allowed for in the above numbers. The length of tibio-tarsus from hinder edge of platform to lower end of internal condyle is 18.5 in.

– 356 –

regard to two or more specimens of different sizes found lying near one another, careful examination has rudely dissipated the view, for they have been found to be the remains of adults of two different species.

Euryapteryx crassa is a moa of medium height, standing about five or six feet; heavy in build, with relatively short legs and broad pelvis. Its beak is short and stout, with a rounded tip. A restoration of an allied species, Pachyornis elephantopus, may be seen in the Dunedin Museum.

I have to thank Mr. Murdoch for so generously placing the bones at my disposal.