Moa bones discovered at Manawatū highway project

A transport team working on a highway project in Manawatū has uncovered moa bones.

The discovery was made on March 9 while Waka Kotahi NZ Transport crews were carrying out excavation work in a gully at the western end of the new Te Ahu a Turanga: Manawatū Tararua Highway project.

The bones of at least two individual smaller-sized moa have been found so far, with further smaller bird bone fragments yet to be analysed.

The largest complete moa bones found so far include a tibia bone approximately 350mm long and two femur bones of varying lengths, both from the right side which NZTA says indicates at least two moa. A pelvis bone, vertebra, and other leg bones have also been uncovered. 

"The team was really excited when it became clear what they'd found. It's not every day we dig a hole and come across a moa," says Lonnie Dalzell, NZTA's owner interface manager.

"It's not unusual on projects like this for us to uncover animal bones, midden, and sometimes even koiwi [human skeletal remains], but moa bones are rare. We believe it is one of the first moa bones found in the area, and is an amazing discovery for our project whānau and the region."

Following the discovery, the area was cordoned off and earthworks were stopped until project site archaeologist Patrick Harsveldt and kaitiaki representatives could visit the site and inspect the find, NZTA says.

Moa bones discovered at Manawatū highway project
Photo credit: Supplied / Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency

Further bones were discovered after the initial find, and Harsveldt began his archaeological investigation with the assistance of kaitiaki representatives.

"As kaitiaki, it was important for us to monitor the investigation and ensure the correct tikanga was followed," says Terry Hapi, kaitiaki coordinator.

"We were concerned the find could potentially be koiwi, but we were all very excited when we realised these were moa bones. It was a privilege to be able to assist in the archaeological excavation."

Harsveldt says he is delighted with the find, which is rare for the area.

"This discovery of in situ moa bones is of great significance for the region. Archaeological investigations are currently continuing to determine whether there is any evidence of human activity in association with the moa bones, such as butchery marks."