New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2022) 46(1): 3458

A partial skeleton provides evidence for the former occurrence of moa populations on Rakiura Stewart Island

Research Article
Alexander J. F. Verry 1*
Matthew Schmidt 2
Nicolas J. Rawlence 1
  1. Otago Palaeogenetics Laboratory, Department of Zoology, University of Otago, 340 Great King Street, Dunedin, New Zealand
  2. Department of Conservation, 265 Princes Street, Dunedin, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

The pre-human moa fauna of Rakiura Stewart Island is poorly known, and although there is little clear evidence that moa occurred naturally on the island, isolated moa bones are often found associated with archaeological middens. Here we report the discovery and collection of what is likely a naturally deposited partial South Island giant moa (Dinornis robustus) skeleton from West Ruggedy Beach, Rakiura, radiocarbon dated to 1297–1395 CE (95.4% CI). The time of death of this moa overlaps with the early occupation of the island by Māori. However, the discovery of this moa skeleton in a dune environment with the presence of an organic rich layer beneath the skeleton, associated gizzard stones, and an absence of archaeological material/features or any cut marks on the bones indicating a cultural association, suggests this individual likely represents a natural subfossil deposit. We discuss the skeleton in the context of other moa remains found on the island and comment on the occurrence of moa populations on Rakiura, concluding that this skeleton provides additional evidence for the natural occurrence of moa on Rakiura.