Haast’s Eagle bones found

January 16, 2009

(ChattahBox) — The bones of a Haast’s Eagle (Harpagornis moorei), a massive, now extinct eagle that once lived on the South Island of New Zealand have been found at the Wairau Bar in Marlborough.

Canterbury Museum’s Paul Scofield unearthed the bones during an archaeological dig aimed at returning ancient Native Maori bones to their original graves.

“It’s very exciting … in our lifetimes there haven’t been any excavations here, so to find an eagle comparatively quickly was very exciting” Scofield said.

The Haast’s eagle was unique to New Zealand.

They had been uncovered elsewhere in the country, but rarely at cultural sites.

“The most important thing is this cultural context, the fact that people were actually using the bones of this rare bird,” Scofield said. “We are talking about an animal that had a population of probably only a thousand when people first arrived in the South Island.”

Archaeologists believed the bones were sought after by Maori who recognised their uniqueness and wished to benefit from its mana.

The Haast’s eagle was believed to have died out about 700 years ago. It had enough strength in its talons to kill a moa attacking at up to 80kmh (50 mph).  Female Haast’s Eagles are believed to have weighed 10 to 15 kg (22 to 33 lb). Eagle preyed on large, flightless bird species, including the moa which was up to 15 times its weight.

The bird, which was first classified by Julius von Haast, had relatively short wings, designed for manoeuvrability rather than soaring flight.

Daily updates on the dig can be found at www.wairaubar.com


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