Volume 51 1942 > Volume 51, No. 1 > Discovery of a Moa egg at Shag rivermouth, by G. Griffiths, p 80-85
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Moa-egg from Shag river-mouth (about 7/18 nat. size linear). The egg, showing the piece broken off by the blow of the pickaxe.
DISCOVERY OF A MOA EGG AT SHAG RIVER-MOUTH.
On 15 February, 1941, further excavations were made at the Shag-river camp by Messrs. D. Teviotdale of Dunedin, Mr. A. Hornsey of Timaru, and myself. Not many artifacts were discovered during the first day or two, but on the 19th I was excavating at a hut-site which, by the state of the fire-ash, I knew had been only partly disturbed by previous workers. I knew from experience that good artifacts are occasionally found deeper down under the old fire-site; I had dug under one at Normanby, Timaru, and was rewarded by finding two very fine flint-knives. So after tea, I continued digging deeply, the other excavators nearby having ceased working; and before ceasing for the night I removed the clean sand underfoot, over a shovel-blade in depth, and prepared to undermine the surface for a fall of earth to be ready in the morning.
I had almost finished when, in the gathering dusk, I saw what seemed to be the outer surface of the rounded femur-joint of a large moa; and, as we had been uncovering moa-bones continually since we arrived, I thought that here was another one to come out. I struck with my pick-axe to drag the bone out, when there was a crash. It was no bone, for no bone would give that hollow sound, and I thought I had pierced a human skull. I bent down and felt it, and thought that no skull would be so thin—it was but a sixteenth of an inch in thickness. I realized that it was the egg of a moa. I carefully released it, emptied the sand from it, and found that fortunately the blow had injured one side only; a piece the size of my open hand had been broken off in addition to a few small chips. These I gathered up and placed inside the shell.- 82
My companions and myself examined our find which we placed on the camp table in our hut. It was of a light-buff colour, and subsequent measurement showed it to be 221 mm. in maximum length, 150 mm. in maximum breadth, with shell 1.5 mm. thick. Dr. Falla, Director Canterbury Museum, wrote to Dr. Skinner, Director Otago Museum, that whilst it is impossible to identify any moa-egg with certainty, the measurements suggested this egg mostly likely to be one of Pachyomis elephantopus. It had evidently been used for the purpose of a water-container, for there was a neat hole drilled in the smaller end. Dr. Skinner states: “The most interesting feature to an ethnologist is the perforation, which has been carefully made at the centre of the smaller end, pressure being applied so steadily that fringing the hole itself a saucer-shaped hollow was formed on the inner surface: diameter little more than 3 mm.: this must have presented considerable difficulty in withdrawing contents.”
Seaching the next morning in the sand removed at the discovery of the specimen, one or two small portions of eggshell were located. The spot where the egg was found was in the centre of a depression in the ground, the top of the egg having only two inches of clean sand over it, this being covered by 11 inches of oven and midden-refuse. Thinking that it might be a burial, as was the one where the perforated egg was recently found in Marlborough at the Wairau boulder-bank, I dug for the possible bones of the owner, but without success. In doing this, however, I discovered that the egg was only three feet from the centre of the hut-fire, in a south-westerly direction, lying horizontally, with the smaller end pointing to the north-east.
A few quartzite pieces found, with a hog-backed adze, and a few moa-bones were the only things that could reasonably have been said to be associated with the living-period of the occupier of this hut and his egg.
Fig. 1 is a reproduction of section 8 from Mr. Teviot-dale's plan of the Shag-river camp; fig. 2 is a close-up section of the area showing the spot, illustrating the strata where the egg was found. Fig. 3 is a view of the egg itself, showing also the piece broken off by the blow of the pick.- 83 - 84
This is the first moa-egg to be found at the Shag-river camp, and probably the first to be discovered within the confines of a known moa-hunters' village-site. Its being found on the original encampment, on that portion recognized by Mr. Teviotdale (who has excavated there for upward of twenty years) as the place where the moa-hunters first lived at Shag river, with refuse of ovens and middens overlying it, is proof of its antiquity. The perforation also makes it evident that it was used for domestic purposes.
I might add that a further deep excavation of the hutsite revealed nothing more; and in conclusion I would express my indebtedness to my companions for their advice and assistance, and to Dr. Skinner for housing and caring for the specimen in the Otago museum, where it will have a permanent resting-place.- 85