The Maori people of New Zealand cherish their kiwi feather cloaks (pictured). An analysis of DNA extracted from the feathers offers clues to the garments' early history.

David Lambert at Griffith University in Nathan, Australia, and his team sequenced the DNA of kiwi feather samples from 109 cloaks held in museums in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. They compared the sequences to those from kiwis living in 26 locations on New Zealand's North Island.


Most of the feathers came from the North Island brown kiwi (Apteryx mantelli). However, 15% of the cloaks held feathers from populations in different areas, hinting at the existence of a feather trade. More than one-third of the garments included feathers from birds restricted to an eastern pocket of the North Island, which could be where cloak-making traditions started, the authors say.

Mol. Biol. Evol. doi:10.1093/molbev/msr107 (2011)