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The Moa and Geological Dating

What is a Moa and what does it tell us about geological dating methods?

The New Zealand Moa is an extinct flightless bird similar to the Emu and Ostrich. It was however, much larger, the tallest ones reaching a height of three metres.

Since modern Maoris have no historical knowledge of the Moa, it added to the belief that these birds had been extinct for tens of thousands of years. In 1866, in a drained swamp at Glenmark, north of Canterbury, a large collection of Moa bones were found and German geologist Julius von Haast investigated the discovery. After carrying out excavations at the site, Haast estimated that the Moa became extinct about the period of the Dinosaurs. According to accepted geological dating this would place the extinction around 130,000 years ago.

When, a few years later more Moa relics were unearthed near Southbridge, at the mouth of the Rakia River, together with bones of man, Haast was obliged to change his views considerably, revising the Moa extinction to the period of Stone-Age man.

This dating also established the approximate arrival period of the earliest Maoris in New Zealand, and the extinction of the Moa was attributed to their destructive hunting methods of firing the scrub to drive the birds out into the open for mass-slaughtering.

Another Discovery

Another Discovery In 1872, in an excavated cave near Christchurch, Moa remains were found in strata that also included tools and implements much more sophisticated than those used by Stone-Age man. Haast, who was by this time director of the Canterbury Museum was forced again to revise his dating for the Moa extinction, to about 1100 AD.

In 1939 a fifteen year old farmer’s son named Jim Eyles who lived at Marlborough, discovered nearby several graves containing human remains. In the graves were also found well-fashioned tools such as adzes, chisels, needles and fish hooks, as well as ornaments and necklaces. Also discovered in the site was a Moa egg, which, of all his finds, gave Eyles the most fame.


Later excavations in the area turned up bones of other creatures such as eagles, swans and crows, as well as two types of Moa. The ornaments were of Polynesian design and confirmed the earliest settlement date for the original Maoris to be about 1100 AD. This means that the extinction of the Moa could not have been very long after that period. The reason why modern Maoris have not passed-down stories about Moa hunting seems to be that they were largely crop-growers and not hunters. They are believed to have arrived in New Zealand about 1300 AD.Excavations in the North Island have revealed that living Moas of a smaller size than those in the South Island survived until the Sixteenth Century.

Be that as it may, an extinction date of only 800 years ago is a very far cry from the Dinosaur period –whenever that actually was – and it surely calls into  question, geological dating of other extinct creatures. The finding in recent times of living Coelacanths, once confidently stated by some geologists to have become extinct 300,000 million years ago, is another such case. This causes one to wonder how much of fossil dating generally is mostly prejudicial guesswork
on the part of evolution-prone geologists.

-- Malcolm Edwards

Further information may be read in the book, “Landmarks” by K.B. Cumberland, (Readers Digest Books)

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