Mobile Menu Open Mobile Menu Close

The Manawatu-Tararua Highway fossil avifauna: a unique window into the late Pleistocene of North Island, New Zealand

Richard N. Holdaway1, Ningsheng Wang2, Sarah Smithies3, Roland Auret4

1Palaecol Research Ltd, P.O. Box 16 569, Hornby, Christchurch 8042, New Zealand.

2Luminescence Dating Laboratory, School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, P.O. Box 600, Wellington 6012, New Zealand.

3School of Earth and Environment, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch, New Zealand.

4Contour Engineering, 51 Falsgrave Street, Waltham, Christchurch 8011, New Zealand

Most well-preserved fossil avifaunas in New Zealand date from within the past 40,000 years. Earthworks for the Manawatu-Tararua highway have exposed a fauna which may be much older. Bones uncovered at 100 m a.s.l. at the western end of the Manawatu River gorge were lifted and moved to the Manawatu Museum under a process agreed between the New Zealand Transport Agency and the iwi Working Group, then cleaned and examined at the museum under iwi supervision. The bones could not be moved to Te Papa Tongarewa, so they were identified by RNH and museum curator Alan Tennyson during email and telephone consultations. Nine major elements were 3D scanned for replication and deposition of copies in Te Papa Tongarewa. Bone samples were taken for radiocarbon dating, stable isotopic analysis, and potential aDNA content. Samples from the overlying sediments were taken for luminescence dating and characterisation of the matrix enclosing the bones. The fauna included several individuals of two genera of moa, Euryapteryx and Pachyornis, at least one North Island adzebill (Aptornis otidiformis) and at least one North Island goose (Cnemiornis gracilis). Both sexes of Euryapteryx were present, as well as an unidentified moa hatchling. The bones rested on a pebble estuarine shoreline pavement and were covered by a blue-grey “clay” up to 1.25 m thick. The overlying and adjacent sediments included an estuarine cockle bed, several metres of laminated silty sand, and 10+ m of loess. The potential geologic age of the fauna, its mode of emplacement and implications are discussed.