Rare moa bones unearthed during Manawatū highway project

Workers on a  Manawatū highway project have made a rare and historic find. 

Moa bones were unearthed three weeks ago and are now being investigated at a Palmerston North Museum.

The construction workers digging through the Ruahine Range were paving the way for a new highway to replace the Manawatū Gorge - but instead, they unearthed ancient bones. 

Lonnie Dalzell from Waka Kotahi says the experience was meaningful.

"It was interesting to see how the different workers reacted. It was quite a spiritual thing for some people, others were nervous because they thought it might have been koiwi [human remains] as well." 

Archaeologist Patrick Harsveldt soon determined they weren't human remains.

"We were delighted to find moa bone."

The flightless birds became extinct more than 500 years ago. 

Harsveldt doesn't know how old these bones are, but says they're from two individual moa that died of natural causes.

"We didn't find any evidence of butchery marks so unfortunately we are not dealing with a hunting scene."

It's not the first time road workers have unearthed the unexpected.

A metal ball thought to be a ship's cannonball was discovered at the Transmission Gully site near Wellington in 2017 and human remains were found during road repairs in Kaikoura that same year. 

Dalzell says moa bones are a first.

"I've been working in roading construction for 17 years and I've never found one."

The bones were welcomed to Palmerston North Museum Te Manawa this morning where archeologists will study them

The bones may never be publicly displayed; local iwi want them returned to the earth. 

"Our thoughts are they should be returned to the moanga to where they belong," said Terry Hapi. 

But for now, moa bones long hidden under layers of earth are being seen for the first time.