Art. XXIV.—Footprints of the Moa.
[Read before the Manawatu Philosophical Society, 19th August, 1912.]
A Heavy fresh which occurred on the 13th August last in the Manawatu River, by washing away the bank (there 15 ft. high) near the foot of Fitzroy Street, within the Borough of Palmerston North, disclosed some very distinct impressions of the footprints of a moa on a bed of stiff blue clay. Four of these footprints were particularly distinct, in a line at right angles to the bed of the river. They were discovered by Mr. Coles, of Palmerston, who at once communicated the fact of the discovery to Mr. Gardner, the President of the local Philosophical Society, and at his instigation the footprints were carefully cut out and placed in the Society's museum. Before removal they were photographed, and accurate measurements taken.
These measurements were: Across the foot from toe to toe, 18 in.; from point of middle toe to heel, 12 in.; and from heel to heel, 30 in. Plaster casts have been taken, and copies may be obtained if required.
As has been stated, the footprints were 15 ft. below the level of the surrounding land, on which there had been heavy bush.
Note by Professor Benham.
Footprints of a large bird, no doubt one of the species of moa, were described by Archdeacon W. L. Williams as long ago as 1871 (Trans. N.Z. IInst., vol. 4; p. 124) at Turanganui, Poverty Bay. The length of the middle toe from tip to back of heel was 7 ⅞ in., while across the foot from the tip of the outer to tip of inner toe was 7 in. The interval between, the steps was about 20 in. The block of stone containing these prints was presented to the Auckland Museum The same and other prints were seen, and described in the same volume, by the Hon. T. G. Gillies, who also presented the specimens to the Museum
In 1894 Mr. H. Hill saw and described and figured foot-marks near the right bank of the Manawatu River at Palmerston North (Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. 27, p. 476). They were then about 6 ft. above the water, but “must be covered with water, or nearly so, during winter.” He then notes that “the top of the river-bank would be about 18 ft. above the deposit containing the footprints.” These were somewhat numerous, but only about eight of them were clear and distinct at the time of his visit. The length of the middle toe to heel was 15 in., and the distance from tip to tip of outer and inner toes about the same. The length of step was about 26 in. These measurements were taken, we are told, by Mr. Gilberd, near whose place the footprints were found. The slight discrepancy between them and those of the present specimens are possibly due to the depth and distinctness of the impression. It is not an easy matter to take very accurate measurements of impressions in a softish mud. It seems likely that the prints seen by Mr. Hill have been worn away by the river, and that the new ones discovered under what was then the river-bank are a continuation of that series. Mr. Hill places the age of the bed in which they occur as “later Pleistocene.”
Unfortunately, we know so little of the foot-bones of the North Island species of moa—at any rate, Hutton in his account of them gives no measurements, and makes no reference to the toe-bones—that it is not with certainty that they can be referred to any particular species; but from a comparison of the measurements given by Mr. Wilson with the foot-bones of the skeletons of Dinornis robustus in the Otago University Museum it seems probable that they were made by either D. giganteus or D. ingens. The toes of D. robustus measure from tip of middle toe to back of heel 12 in., and the stretch of inner and outer toes is 15 in.; but in the skeleton the proximal phalanx is not accurately fitted to the distal end of the tarsometatarsus: the spread should be greater than this. But this is quite near enough to the measurements of the print to allow us to attribute them to one of the above large species of North Island moa.
I think that the members of the Manawatu Philosophical Society are to be congratulated on having so promptly had these interesting relics cut out and preserved in their museum, so that casts can be obtained of them by other museums.