Scary archeology: The terrifying dicovery of Mount Owen Moa


In 1986, an expedition descended on Mount Owen in New Zealand with the intention of exploring the vast network of caves that dwell deep beneath the mountain. Ominous setting, isolated expedition, vast network of unexplored caves. Yep, and true to horror cliche form, the team was excavating a path between two caves when they found something very disturbing: A pile of strange bones still connected to shredded fragments of skin, as though fresh and attached to this thing:

Giant Moa foot in New Zealand, moa, moa foot, extinct bird
Giant Moa foot in New Zealand. via Wikipedia

Imagine peering through the darkness, with only the tiny, wavering beam of your flashlight picking out the world in front of you, when you’re confronted by that: a very large, very claw-happy foot from some sort of hell-beast that looks like it probably died recently. And you’re down there, trapped in an underground cave system, not knowing whether its bloodthirsty relatives are nearby.

It turns out that the team had stumbled onto the 3,000-year-old remains of an upland moa, a flightless bird that somehow went extinct despite possessing claws that would make a velociraptor jealous. Here’s the naturally mummified, 600-year-old head of a different moa:

Giant Moa foot in New Zealand, moa, moa foot, extinct bird
Moa head. via National Museum of NZ, Wellington

And just like the devil’s claw above, the background story behind this discovery reads like a classic horror movie plot line: It was originally discovered in another New Zealand cave back in 1863, by James Campbell. And then, with no explanation, the specimen up and vanished for a number of years, until it resurfaced and was sold to the director of Wellington’s Dominion Museum by Campbell’s great-great-grandson for the suspiciously low price of 5 pounds.

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