Thursday, 21 March 2019

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Roimata Taimana’s moa

Two years ago, Kuaotunu artist Roimata Taimana was ecstatic to be gifted a bag filled with moa bones found on a Coromandel beach by a friend and the friend’s daughter.

It is thought that the moa, endemic to New Zealand, was driven to extinction in 1445.

The tallest bird species ever known, the moa reached about 3.6m in height with its neck outstretched and weighed approximately 230kg. Moa were herbivores and enjoyed a diet of twigs, plants and berries and like many birds, had to swallow stones to grind up the food in their gizzard (part of the stomach).

Roimata has had a passion for fossils ever since he was young, so he knew instantly the bones he was gifted weren’t cow bones and had a good idea of how to piece them together. He recalls finding many moa bones in paddocks as a young boy living in Whangapoua, but at the time didn’t know what they were.

A few months after having been gifted the bones, Roimata returned to the site where the bones were initially found and many hours spent sifting through the sand resulted in additional finds. He’s now in possession of a whole moa leg, as well as a tail bone, toes, hip bone, vertebrae and a piece from inside the moa’s oesophagus. He also found bones found from the bird’s other foot.

Along with this collection, Roimata also ended up with some gizzard stones, a fossilized cockle, an enormous fossilised oyster shell lid and some obsidian stone that looks as though it had been worked with a tool. He also found a piece of large egg shell that looks as though it may have come from a moa or kiwi egg.

Roimata thinks that the rest of “his” moa’s bones are either still buried or may have been found already. He suspects that the moa died a natural death and wasn’t hunted. “When I inspected the inside of the leg bone, there were no scrapings to indicate that tools were used to remove the marrow,” he says.

The friend who initially gifted the bones to Roimata is Pakeha and felt that Roimata would be a suitable guardian of the bones.

A Google search shows that moa bones have been sold online in the past for upwards of $1,000, however it’s illegal to do so if the bones were found on Department of Conservation-owned land or an archaeological site.

In 2014, a complete moa skeleton was sold at an auction in Britain for $110,000 amid controversy that the bones may have been exported from New Zealand illegally, having possibly come from the DOC estate.

It’s very likely that there are many more moa bones to be found in the New Zealand landscape.

A friend of Roimata’s tells of an instance documented in the early 1950s when a severe storm blew the sand dunes clean on a popular Coromandel beach, uncovering a huge number of moa bones scattered far and wide.

There was also an incident where two farmers many years ago came across roughly 100,000 moa bones, but ground them up to use as fertiliser.

Roimata thoroughly enjoys being able to show his collection to people, so they have the opportunity to pick the bones up and have a good look themselves. People are amazed to find that the bones are extremely brittle and light, not unlike the texture of pumice stone.

“There are treasures everywhere, you just have to keep your eyes open,” says Roimata. “But at the same time, we need to make sure we always respect our natural environment.”

Roimata’s collection of bones were recently showed to the children attending the Rudolph Steiner Kindergarten in Kuaotunu, which thoroughly excited them. Roimata often has parents coming up to him at Luke’s Café in Kuaotunu to tell him their children keeps on talking about his collection.

Roimata says he would be more than happy to participate in more show and tell sessions with his moa bones at schools and early learning centres in the Mercury Bay area.

If you are interested in Roimata’s extraordinary collection, contact us here at The Informer and we will put you in touch with him.

Pictured: Roimata Taimana with his collection of moa bones and other fossils.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.