Archaeology

Remains of the moa

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    Credit: NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM, LONDON/ SPL

    An analysis of ancient DNA from the moa (pictured) — large, flightless birds wiped out by the first New Zealanders in the 1300s — reveals just how intensely the settlers preyed on these birds.

    A team led by Michael Bunce at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia, and Chris Jacomb at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, isolated DNA from moa bones and eggshells found at several archaeological sites. One site contained some 50 eggs, suggesting that people hunted for both eggs and adults, rapidly driving the species towards extinction. Male moa were more commonly found than females, possibly because the males tended to incubate eggs, which would have made them more vulnerable to hunters.

    Furthermore, seven human burials contained moa remains, suggesting that early New Zealanders valued the birds that they would eventually hunt to extinction.

    Quaternary Sci. Rev. 52, 41–48 (2012) http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2012.07.007

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    Remains of the moa. Nature 490, 313 (2012) doi:10.1038/490313b

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