A 3,300-Year-Old Bird Claw Was Discovered By Archaeologists While Digging In A Cave
Nearly three decades ago, a team of archaeologists were carrying out an expedition inside a large cave system on Mount Owen in New Zealand when they stumbled across a frightening and unusual object.
With little visibility in the dark cave, they wondered whether their eyes were deceiving them, as they could not fathom what lay before them—an enormous, dinosaur-like claw still intact with flesh and scaly skin.
The claw was so well-preserved that it appeared to have come from something that had only died very recently.
The archaeological team eagerly retrieved the claw and took it for analysis. The results were astounding; the mysterious claw was found to be the 3,300-year-old mummified remains of an upland moa, a large prehistoric bird that had disappeared from existence centuries earlier.
The upland moa (Megalapteryx didinus) was a species of moa bird endemic to New Zealand. A DNA analysis published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggested that the first moa appeared around 18.5 million years ago and there were at least ten species, but they were wiped from existence “in the most rapid, human-facilitated megafauna extinction documented to date.”
With some sub-species of moa reaching over 10 feet (3 meters) in height, the moa was once the largest species of bird on the planet. However, the upland moa, one of the smallest of the moa species, stood at no more than 4.2 feet (1.3 meters). It had feathers covering its whole body, except the beak and soles of its feet, and it had no wings or tail. As its name implies, the upland moa lived in the higher, more cooler parts of the country.
The Discovery of the Moa
The first discovery of the moa occurred in 1839 when John W. Harris, a flax trader and natural history enthusiast, was given an unusual fossilized bone by a member of an indigenous Māori tribe, who said he had found it on a river bank.
The bone was sent to Sir Richard Owen, who was working at the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in London. Owen was puzzled by the bone for four years—it did not fit with any other bone he had come across.
Eventually, Owen came to the conclusion that the bone belonged to a completely unknown giant bird. The scientific community ridiculed Owen’s theory, but he was later proved correct with the discoveries of numerous bone specimens, which allowed for the complete reconstruction of a moa skeleton.
Since the first discovery of moa bones, thousands more have been found, along with some remarkable mummified remains, such as the frightening-looking Mount Owen claw.
Some of these samples still exhibit soft tissue with muscle, skin, and even feathers. Most of the fossilized remains have been found in dunes, swamps, and caves, where birds may have entered to nest or to escape bad weather, preserved through desiccation when the bird died in a naturally dry site (for example, a cave with a constant dry breeze blowing through it).
The Rise and Fall of the Moa
When Polynesians first migrated to New Zealand in the middle of the 13th century, the moa population was flourishing. They were the dominant herbivores in New Zealand’s forest, shrubland, and subalpine ecosystems for thousands of years, and had only one predator—the Haast’s eagle. However, when the first humans arrived in New Zealand, the moa rapidly became endangered due to overhunting and habitat destruction.
“As they reached maturity so slowly, [they] would not have been able to reproduce quickly enough to maintain their populations, leaving them vulnerable to extinction,” writes the Natural History Museum, London.
“All moas were extinct by the time Europeans arrived in New Zealand in the 1760s.” The Haast’s Eagle, which relied on the moa for food, died out soon after.
Revival of the Moa?
The moa has frequently been mentioned as a candidate for revival through cloning since numerous well-preserved remains exist from which DNA could be extracted. Furthermore, since it only became extinct several centuries ago, many of the plants that made up the moa’s food supply would still be in existence.
Japanese geneticist Ankoh Yasuyuki Shirota has already carried out preliminary work toward these ends by extracting DNA from moa remains, which he plans to introduce into chicken embryos. Interest in the ancient bird’s resurrection gained further support in the middle of this year when Trevor Mallard, a Member of Parliament in New Zealand, suggested that reviving the moa over the next 50 years was a viable idea.
The 40,000-Year-Old log is found underneath New Zealand’s swamp
A 45,000-year-old log discovered during excavations for a new power station could explain a mysterious global event which may have dramatically changed the Earth’s climate.
Scientists in New Zealand believe the 60-tonne log could hold the answers to the ancient Laschamp Event – where the earth’s north and south poles switched with each other 40,000 years ago.
The 60-tonne Kauri log was found nine metres beneath the surface in Ngāwhā on New Zealand’s north island in February and was handed over to local Maoris on Wednesday after a major excavation operation.
Top Energy, the company building the power station, began earthworks in 2017 and had excavated 900,000 cubic metres of the soil before stumbling across the 16-metre log.
Scientist Alan Hogg, from Waikato University, determined the tree dates back to 40,500 years ago, NZ Herald reported.
The mammoth log’s age sparked an interest in scientists studying the Laschamp Event – a ‘magnetic reversal’ where the Earth’s north and south magnetic poles switched places.
It was not known exactly when the reversal occurred but it was thought to have been about 41,000 years ago.
Scientists hope that studying the level of radioactive carbon in the tree’s rings would allow them to determine when the reversal occurred and for how long.
Kiwi scientists believe the magnetic reversals — and the accompanying drop in the Earth’s magnetic field strength, which allowed more solar radiation to reach the Earth’s surface — could have a major effect on climate.
‘This tree is critical, we’ve never found one of this age before,’ Mr Hogg says finding the tree was a stroke of luck which will play a huge role in future research.
Going by its size the tree was likely to have been 1500-2000 years old when it died, Mr Hogg said.
The 16-metre log was transported to nearby Ngāwhā Marae (sacred place) on Wednesday, where a ceremony was held to welcome the ancient tree to the hapū’s care (a division of Maoris).
Ngāwhā Trustees committee chairman Richard Woodman said it was a ‘fantastic acknowledgement’ from Shaw that the tree was being returned to its rightful owners rather than gifted.
Transporting the tree was a major operation, with sections of about 1.5m long needing to be cut off either end so it could be moved, with the stump alone weighing 28 tonnes.
The three sections were lifted by two 130-tonne cranes, then taken by truck five kilometres down the highway, with the whole operation taking four hours.
Remains of 19th-Century Bridge Found in New Zealand
Archaeologists have dug up parts of an old bridge in Picton, a project the community once fought to have constructed. WSP archaeologist Kirsty Sykes discovered the site, at the Waitohi Stream on State Highway 1, when she was playing with her daughter Maddy, who goes to a nearby kindergarten.
She noticed part of the old bridge foundation in the ground, likely from a structure built-in 1866.
“In 1866, there was a whole lot of people complaining about the disgrace that Picton doesn’t have a nice big bridge,” Sykes said.
“I’ve got a newspaper article from 1913, where the speed limit over the bridge was a walking pace. The bridge by that point was getting quite old, and people were getting fines for going too fast over the bridge.”
She said sometime in the early 20th century, a new bridge was built. But in doing so, they left some of the old piles in the ground, which were the material archaeologists dug up this month.
“It was in the ground, it’s pretty waterlogged in the top. When they put the new bridge in they just decided it was easier to chop it off.”
It was an exciting find as an archaeologist because it was part of the community’s history.
“It brings the past and the present, and the future together. So finding something like this is the real tangible link to the past, that you can touch it right, and you can relate to it.”
She said a piece of the wood would be sent off to sample what exactly it was. The rest would go to the Picton Museum for display.
“We found a bridge pile there that was nearly 7 metres, but it had lost the very end, so this is a very nice example of that end,” she said.
Workers found the old wooden pile while driving new piles into the ground. The pile hit the wood and sliced part of it off.
It was thought that the old bridge at the Ōpaoa site was built in 1868.
A spokesperson from Waka Kotahi said the current Waitohi Stream bridge is undergoing scour protection works to protect its abutments from potential river water and flood damage.
“The team will install concrete blocks and rock rip rap in front of the existing abutments and fill a void under the existing rock baskets to maintain the stability of the bridge supports,” the spokesperson said.
This was expected to be completed by the end of April.
330,000 Year Old Man made wall Found in New Zealand
In 1996, the alternative historian Barry Brailsford drew the world’s attention to the Kaimanawa wall in New Zealand. The curious structure lies in the Kaimanawa State Forest, south of Lake Taupo on North Island. A tremendous amount of controversy erupted surrounding the wall after Brailsford and David Childress claimed that the wall is man-made and pre-dates Maori colonization of New Zealand by about 1200 years. Such information, if true, would have rewritten the history of New Zealand. Additionally, there would have been complex and far-reaching political and financial implications for the local Maori tribes.
Did Mysterious People Build the Kaimanawa Wall?
Brailsford is a native resident and history lecturer of Christchurch, New Zealand. David Hatcher Childress is an author on lost civilizations around the world and a regular commentator on Ancient Aliens. The two men worked together to study the Kaimanawa wall in 1996. To the investigators, the workmanship reminded them of similar megalithic structures found in the Pacific and South America.
The stones consist of ignimbrite, a type of rock that results when pyroclastic pumice solidifies after a volcanic blast. The structure seems to bear the hallmarks of a deliberate construction with neat rows of stacked blocks. Precision joints and surfaces appear carved or sculpted. The most heated area of contention about the wall is its age. If someone built the formation around 2000 years ago, then a mysterious group of people must have settled in New Zealand before the first Maori. According to Brailsford, the structure proves the claim of the Waitaha of South Island that their people reached New Zealand before the Maori.
Current Knowledge About Maori Settlement
The theory of pre-Maori civilization in New Zealand conflicts with the current understanding of the first settlements of the islands. Based on archaeological evidence, the first wave of Maori arrived sometime between 1250 and 1300 from Eastern Polynesia. Subsequently, other waves of Maori followed. The oldest official archaeological site and perhaps the very first settlement in the islands are located at the Wairao Bar on South Island. Scientists recorded about 2000 artefacts and 44 human skeletons and found that many of them originated directly from Eastern Polynesia.
Maori oral tradition indicates that their oldest ancestors who first arrived in New Zealand were the Waitaha (not to be confused with the Nation of Waitaha which will be explained later). The story indicates that subsequent Polynesian groups to arrive assimilated the Waitaha. Today, Waitaha descendants live on South Island.
To date, there is no official evidence of an earlier civilization, however, there are numerous unsubstantiated claims of sites and artefacts that pre-date the Maori. The first European to arrive was Abel Tasman in 1642. Because these islands are so remote, New Zealand was one of the last places that humans colonized – about 600-900 years after eastern Polynesians settled Hawai’i.
Three Theories About the Kaimanawa Outcropping
There are three general ideas about the wall, two of which have already been discussed. They are summarized here.
The first theory proposes that the wall was constructed 2000 years ago or earlier by a prior civilization that people only speculate about. Depending on the group making the claim, the identity of the first settlers may have been European Celts, fair-skinned Asians, or a pre-Maori group of Polynesians, perhaps the Waitahas.
A second suggestion is that the stones do not even date back a century and are nothing more than the remains of a disused sawmill.
The final proposal is that hot pumice from a pyroclastic eruption created the outcropping around 330,000 years ago. Based on this theory, the cracks formed during the cooling process of the ignimbrite. This resulted in blocks that are quite common to the area and that, n fact, are not megalithic human creations.
Much of the world heard about the wall only with the media frenzy that began in 1996. The magazine New Zealand Listener published an article, “Megalith Mystery: Are giant stones in the Kaimanawa Forest Park evidence of an ancient New Zealand culture?” The article provided Brailsford and his ideas with a huge amount of publicity. On the other hand, local tribes in the region had been aware of the rocky structure for a long time. As far as they were concerned, outcropping was a natural formation that weathering processes had shaped over the centuries.
Can a Rat Solve the Mystery?
Another discovery alludes to a group that arrived much earlier than once thought. Richard Holdaway dated the bones of a Kiore rat at 2000 years old. Indigenous mammals did not exist in New Zealand. Therefore, the rat found its way to the remote lands only with the assistance of human mariners. Interestingly, the DNA of the rats show a close link to those of the Society and the Cook Islands. Thus, experts generally believe that the Polynesians who came from that region of Eastern Polynesia to settle New Zealand transported the rats with them. If there were rats in New Zealand 2000 years ago, humans must have already found their way there. However, as with the stone wall, there is some controversy about Holdaway’s dating results which some scientists question. (Howe 2003).
Politics and the Kaimanawa Wall
In order to understand some of the political, social, and economic repercussions of the claims regarding the age of the Kaimanawa outcropping, a little backstory is necessary. In 1840 the British Crown and Maori chiefs signed an agreement called the Treaty of Waitangi. This document outlined the stipulations and arrangements for the future political and social relationship between the two parties. However, when the Maori realized that the Crown had not adhered to certain points of the agreement, the Waitangi Tribunal emerged in 1975 as an inquisitional board to hear grievances against the Crown.
One of the purposes of the board was to make recommendations to the government regarding the validity of the claims. Another organization reviewed the recommendations and made determinations about settlements (compensations) which could come in various forms: money, land, or usage rights, for instance. The basis of the treaty and any entitlements stem from the premise that the Maori have indigenous claims to the land.
As a result of the treaty and compensations, a number of oppositional groups surfaced. Geoffrey Clark explains one aspect of the political/social quagmire:
“Within Maoridom, there were schisms between groups and subgroups involving membership and aﬃliation, and uncertainty over the rights of urban Maori to access resources through the Waitangi Tribunal. Most of all, if Maori were enshrined as the indigenous people of the land then the non-Maori majority might be considered ‘non-indigenous, a term that carries the negative environmental connotations of being foreign, exotic and invasive to the land” (Clark).
Divisions Between Tribes
The very presence of the wall became a nightmare for both the New Zealand Government and local Maori tribes. The existence of pre-Maori settlers could, in theory, undermine the Maori status as “indigenous” and their claims against the Crown. In turn, this could complicate settlement compensations to which the Maori had previously been entitled. After the two-week media frenzy following Brailsford’s announcement that the wall proves the existence of a pre-Maori megalith culture, the heated reaction of the Maori resulted in a government ban to the site. This stopped all investigations, but not before an official geologist had a chance to assess the structure.
A Geologist’s Research
The New Zealand Department of Conservation hired Dr Peter Wood from the Institute of Geothermal and Nuclear Sciences in Wairakei to have a look at the wall to provide them with an objective opinion. Subsequently, Wood concluded that the rock formation was somewhere in the region of 330,000 years old and consisted of Rangitaiki Ignimbrite. What Brailsford had accepted as man-made cuts were a system of fractures that were a naturally occurring result of a cooling process of ignimbrite sheeting.
The following is an excerpted quote from Dr Woods’ report about the Kaimanawa wall, as taken from a forum post on AboveTopSecret.
“The regular block shapes are produced by natural fractures in the rock. These fractures (joints) were initially produced when the hot ignimbrite cooled. . . . Near vertical and horizontal joints are common in welded ignimbrites of this type. The forces of erosion, gravity, earthquakes and tree growth (roots) probably have all contributed to the movement and displacement of the blocks over time.
The apparent regularity and ‘artificial’ aspect of the jointing are spurious. Most of the joints are not cuboidal. The eye is deceived mainly by one prominent horizontal joint which can be traced almost continuously along the outcrop into an area (recently excavated) where it is but one of an interlocking series of irregular joints.”
Further Scholarly Opinion
Perry Fletcher, a Taupo historian from the New Zealand Archaeological Association, and Paul Adds, a Victoria University professor, were among the harshest critics of the supporters of the pre-Maori civilization. In Fletcher’s case, he had been aware of the existence of the wall for decades. However, he never gave it a second thought. On the other hand, Adds firmly believed that those who were in favour of a “white people settled New Zealand first” theory were adhering to racist ideas. Additionally, he believed that such ideas ignored evidence that indigenous people are quite creative and resourceful.
The New Zealand Archaeological Association refused to comment about the Kaimanawa wall in the press. The reason they provided was that they did not feel it was an archaeological matter at all.
The controversy is ongoing to this day, and there are many sides to this story. The matter has only grown more politically complex. Since Brailsford and Childress first investigated the wall, both historians have written books and given pay-for seminars. In the late 1980s, Brailsford was instrumental in the formation of an additional tribe. They called it the Nation of Waitaha (an offshoot of the already-existing Waitaha, the first group of Maori arrivals). The Nation also has non-Maori individuals among its members.
“The Nation of Waitaha claimed to be the ﬁrst people in New Zealand and culturally distinct from later Maori arrivals, especially Ngai Tahu, which was portrayed as a warrior culture more concerned with securing economic assets from the Crown than with matters spiritual or environmental” (Clark). To some, the creation of factions and claims of indigeneity boil down to the financial settlements obtainable through the Tribunal.
Is This the Smoking Gun?
Unfortunately, the financial and political issues surrounding the Kaimanawa wall have muddied the uncertain and inconclusive reality of the outcropping. The most credible non-biased study suggests that it is merely one of the many amazing geological formations in New Zealand, like the Moeraki boulders or the hexagonal basalt columns. However, this certainly does not preclude the possibility of a pre-Maori settlement. This only means that the smoking gun might not be the Kaimanawa wall in Taupo.
42,000-Year-Old Trees Enable Accurate Analysis of Earth’s Last Magnetic Field Reversal
Humans today take Earth’s magnetic North Pole for granted. But over the course of the planet’s history, the direction of its magnetic field has shifted. A new study suggests that the last time the field flipped around and flopped back again, the effects on Earth’s surface were cataclysmic, Carolyn Gramling reports for Science News.
The study, published on February 19 in the journal Science, makes use of massive, fossilized Kauri trees from New Zealand to create a timeline of how cosmic rays impacted Earth’s atmosphere during their lifetimes, which overlapped with a magnetic field flipping event called the Laschamps excursion.
By comparing the chemicals preserved in the tree rings to atmospheric records found in ice cores and soil, the researchers drew conclusions about the magnetic field’s effect on the ozone layer, as well as solar activity and space weather.
After that, the researchers laid out a series of theories about how the changes may have impacted ancient people and wildlife on Earth. The Science study is the first to consider a wide swath of possible consequences.
The study begins with fossilized Kauri trees that died over 41,000 years ago. One, which was discovered last January and delivered to Ngāwhā Marae, was the first tree found to have lived during the entirety of the Laschamps excursion, an 800-year period when the magnetic field flipped backwards and corrected itself again.
The research team analyzed levels of a radioactive form of carbon in the trees’ rings. The idea is that when Earth’s magnetic field is weak, cosmic radiation causes more radioactive carbon to form in the atmosphere, so it shows up in higher amounts in the tree rings.
Because tree rings form with a predictable yearly pattern, they could match magnetic field strength with time. They found that during the Laschamps excursion, the magnetic field was about 28 per cent of its usual strength and even weaker in the centuries leading up to this time period.
From about 41,600 to 42,300 years ago, Earth’s magnetic field was only six per cent of its full strength. Because this period centres on about 42,000 years ago, the researchers named the period the Adams Event after Douglas Adams, author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which states that 42 is the answer to “the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.”
It would be bad enough if just Earth’s magnetic field was weakened, but ice core data showed an unfortunate coincidence: during the Adams Event, the sun was also in a period of lowered activity. While that might have meant fewer solar flares, it also means that the protective shield the sun creates against cosmic rays—called the heliosphere—was also weakened.
With both its magnetic field and heliosphere diminished, Earth was doubly at risk from cosmic radiation, according to the study.
That would be really bad news today, given space weather’s effect on satellites and the power grid. But what would it mean for life 42,000 years ago?
“It must have seemed like the end of days,” says University of New South Wales geoscientist Chris S.M. Turney, a co-author of the new study, to Alanna Mitchell at the New York Times.
The effects may have included a thinning ozone layer, the aurora borealis approaching close to the equator, an increase in ultraviolet radiation reaching the surface, raging electrical storms, and Arctic air reaching across continents, the authors write on the Conversation.
They link the environmental effects to the extinction of large animals in Australia, the eventual demise of Neanderthals and humans’ use of red ocher pigment for cave art and sunscreen.
“One of the strengths of the paper just from the perspective of its scholarly work, not necessarily the analytical science that it does, is just the degree to which it stitches together all of these disparate sources of information to make its case,” says climate scientist Jason E. Smerdon of Columbia University to the New York Times.
The paper has sparked conversations among scientists about the theories it presents, and how future research might provide evidence to back them up or not, John Timmer reports for Ars Technica.
Experts have wondered for over 50 years about whether or not magnetic field shifts affect life on Earth, but lacked clear avenues to find answers, geophysics expert James E. T. Channell tells the Times.
“The biggest value of the paper is that it’s putting out several ideas that should be investigated further,” says GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences geomagnetism Monika Korte to Science News.
A 3,300-Year-Old Bird Claw Was Discovered By Archaeologists While Digging In A Cave
Scientists have estimated the Earth to be more or less 4.54 billion years old, predating even human existence. Indeed, there’s a lot more to learn about our home planet than what we were taught in schools. So, when a photo of an unusually massive bird claw surfaced online, people couldn’t help but be astounded by it.
The giant claw was discovered by the members of the New Zealand Speleological Society in 1987.
They were traversing the cave systems of Mount Owen in New Zealand when they unearthed a breathtaking find. It was a claw that seemed to have belonged to a dinosaur. And much to their surprise, it still had muscles and skin tissues attached to it.
Later, they found out that the mysterious talon had belonged to an extinct flightless bird species called moa. Native to New Zealand, moas, unfortunately, had become extinct approximately 700 to 800 years ago.
So, archaeologists have then posited that the mummified moa claw must have been over 3,300 years old upon discovery!
The claw turned out to have belonged to a now-extinct flightless species called moa.
Moas’ lineage most likely began around 80 million years ago on the ancient supercontinent Gondwana. Derived from the Polynesian word for fowl, moas consisted of three families, six genera and nine species.
These species varied in sizes—some were around the size of a turkey, while others were larger than an ostrich. Of the nine species, the two largest had a height of about 12 feet and a weight of about 510 pounds.
Moas varied in sizes—with some as small as a turkey and others as big as an ostrich.
The now-extinct birds’ remains have revealed that they were mainly grazers and browsers, eating mostly fruits, grass, leaves and seeds.
Genetic studies have shown that their closest relatives were the flighted South American tinamous, a sister group to ratites. However, unlike all other ratites, the nine species of moa were the only flightless birds without vestigial wings.
Moas used to be the largest terrestrial animals and herbivores that dominated the forests of New Zealand. Prior to human arrival, their only predator was the Haast’s eagle. Meanwhile, the arrival of the Polynesians, particularly the Maori, dated back to the early 1300s. Shortly after, moas became extinct and so did the Haast’s eagle.
Sadly, they became extinct shortly after humans arrived on the island
Many scientists claimed that their extinction was mainly due to hunting and habitat reduction. Apparently, Trevor Worthy, a paleozoologist known for his extensive research on moa agreed with this presumption.
“The inescapable conclusion is these birds were not senescent, not in the old age of their lineage and about to exit from the world. Rather they were robust, healthy populations when humans encountered and terminated them.”
But whatever brought about these species’ extinction, may their remains serve as a reminder for us to protect other remaining endangered species