Maori Man-Eating Bird Legends Confirmed as True-But has Science Indicted the Wrong Suspect?

Posted by Chris Parker | September 17, 2009 0

Photo:Prow of Maori War Canoe, 1836. Auckland Museum. Click to enlarge photos in this post.

The Haast’s eagle had a wingspan of up to three metres. but the Maori also carved many apparent images of a winged creature which has only been described within the last decade. Many examples of this mystery creature appear on antique war canoe prows. This carnivore possibly (Tupuxuara, Tapejara or Pterorhynchus) had a wingspan of up to 19.5 feet and depending on the genus.

The Maori “myths” incude a description of a red crest on their man-eating flying monster. The crest on the tapejara alone could have been as large as three feet high. These creatures could have weighed as much as eighty pounds, twice as much as the creature science now suspects; the Haast eagle. Following is the official version. More on the unofficial version later…

Maori Man-Eating Bird Legends Confirmed as True

A Maori legend about a giant, man-eating bird has been confirmed by scientists. Te Hokioi was a huge black-and-white predator with a red crest and yellow-green tinged wingtips, in an account given to Sir George Gray, an early governor of New Zealand. It was said to be named after its cry and to have “raced the hawk to the heavens”. Scientists now think the stories handed down by word of mouth and depicted in rock drawings refer to Haast’s eagle, a raptor that became extinct just 500 years ago, shows their study in The Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Haast’s eagle (Harpagornis moorei) was discovered in swamp deposits by Sir Julius von Haast in the 1870s. But it was at first thought to be a scavenger because its bill was similar to a vulture’s with hoods over its nostrils to stop flesh blocking its air passages as it rooted around inside carcasses.

But a re-examination of skeletons using modern technology, including CAT scans, by researchers at Canterbury Museum in Christchurch and the University of New South Wales in Australia showed it had a strong enough pelvis to support a killing blow as it dived at speeds of up to 80kph.

With a wingspan of up to three meters and weighing 18kg, the female was twice as big as the largest living eagle, the Steller’s sea eagle. And the bird’s talons were as big as a tiger’s claws. “It was certainly capable of swooping down and taking a child,” said Paul Scofield, the curator of vertebrate zoology at the Canterbury Museum.

“They had the ability to not only strike with their talons but to close the talons and put them through quite solid objects such as a pelvis. It was designed as a killing machine.”

Its main prey would have been moa, flightless birds which grew to as much as 250kg and 2.5 metres tall. “In some fossil sites, moa bones have been found with signs of eagle predation,” Dr Scofield said.

New Zealand has no native land mammals because it became isolated from other continents in the Cretaceous, more than 65 million years ago. As a result, birds filled niches usually populated by large mammals such as deer and cattle. “Haast’s eagle wasn’t just the equivalent of a giant predatory bird,” said Dr Scofield. “It was the equivalent of a lion.”

The eagle is thought to have died out after the arrival, 1,000 years ago, of humans, who exterminated the giant moa. The latest study shows it was a recent immigrant to the islands, related to the little eagle (Aquila morphnoides) an Australian bird weighing less than 1kg.

Remains of Haast’s eagles are rare because there never were many. They lived only on New Zealand’s South Island, with probably not more than 1,000 breeding pairs at any one time.

Photo:Primitive art. Prow from Maori War Canoe. Auckland Museum compared with recently discovered, high crested pterosaur. A curious creature appears on ancient Maori ship prows and ceremonial boxes. These pieces of ancient art go back to the 1800’s and earlier. Mostly preserved as museum pieces, these depictions are similar in form to pterosaur types that have only very recently been discovered or described; preceeding them by several hundred years.

The Maori art depicts a high crested creature with characteristics similar to birds–and pterosaurs. The high crests, “wattles”, arms and feet along with the large eyes and sharp beaks suggest that the identification as pterosaurs is a better match.

Photo; Right. Another ancient Oceanic boat prow.

Pterosaurs with high crests, similar to the ones depicted in Maori and Oceanic art include the Tupuxuara, Tapejara and the Pterorhynchus. It should be noted that even among the various types of these pterosaurs that the crest and crest shape vary.

It is not neccessary that the Maori pterosaurs be identified specifcally as any of the three named here. The point is, that the Maori are depicts creatures which are very similar to certain high crested pterosaurs and if they existed in this century, could be the source of Maori man-eating bird myths.

“Pterorhynchus was a genus of rhamphorhynchid “rhamphorhynchoid” pterosaur from the Late Jurassic-age Daohugou Formation of Inner Mongolia, China.

The genus was named in 2002 by Stephen Czerkas and Ji Qiang. The type species is Pterorhynchus wellnhoferi. The genus name is derived from Greek pteron, “wing” and rhynchos, “snout”, in reference to the tall crest on the head. The specific name honours the German pterosaur researcher Peter Wellnhofer.

The genus is based on holotype CAGS02-IG-gausa-2/M 608 (earlier DM 608). It was found in Chifeng in the Daohugou Beds. According to Ji Pterorhynchus belongs to the Yanliao Biota from the Haifanggou Formation of the Callovian; Lü Junchang in 2007 ascribed it to the somewhat later Tiaojishan Formation of the same stage.”…wikipedia

Photo:Comparison of primitive Maori art fishing boat prow with several crested pterosaurs. Click to enlarge.

“Tapejara (from a Tupi word meaning “the old being”) is a genus of Brazilian pterosaur from the Cretaceous Period. The Tapejara genus possibly contains two species, both bearing a differently sized/shaped crest that may have been used to signal and display for other Tapejara, much as toucans use their bright bills to signal to one another.

Tapejara crests consisted of a semicircular crest over the snout, and in the case of the type species T. wellnhoferi, a bony prong which extended back behind the head. A second species, T. navigans, lacked this prong and therefore may not belong to a different genus. Soft tissue impressions also show that in T. navigans, the small bony crest was extended by a much larger structure made of a keratinous material (similar to the related T. imperator, with an even larger crest supported by a backwards prong as in T. wellnhoferi). The complete crest of T. navigans rose in a sharp, sail-like “dome” high above the rest of the skull.

Profiles of three species historically assigned to Tapejara. T. imperator has been renamed Tupandactylus, and T. navigans has also been assigned to a new genus.The type species and first discovered, T. wellnhoferi, is the smallest species assigned to Tapejara and does not preserve evidence of soft-tissue crest extensions.

Photo: Right. Another boat prow from the Ancient Maori:

A second species, originally named Tapejara imperator, is much larger and possessed a crest made up of distinctively long prongs, projecting from the rounded snout crest and the back of the skull, which supported a large, possibly rounded sail-like crest of keratin. A third species, Tapejara navigans, was mid-sized and sported a similar crest to T. imperator, though narrower and more dome-shaped, that lacked the backwards-pointing bony support prong.

Several studies in 2007 showed that T. imperator and possibly T. navigans are too different from T. wellnhoferi and therefore require their own genus names. The species T. imperator was given its own genus….”…wikipedia

“Tupuxuara is a genus of large, crested, toothless pterosaur, originally described in 1988 from the Cretaceous Santana Formation of Brazil by Alexander Kellner and Diogenes Campos,[1] but since reported from North America as well.

Photo:Another comparison of pterosaur and the Maori prow creature.

It was superficially similar in appearance to Pteranodon, mature individuals having a swept back crest arising from the snout, but its crest was larger and more pronounced than that of Pteranodon. Females of the species also had large crests, but their crests were more round. It is likely that Tupuxuara was a fish eater, and lived near the coasts of South America.

Photo: Ancient Maori war canoe. Note prow shape at its front.

The skull of the Tupuxuara measured a length of 900mm, the length of the entire body was 2.5 meters, and had a wingspan of 5.4 meters. Among pterosaurs, Tupuxuara is part of a group termed the Azhdarchoidea, but within Azhdarchoidea there is a controversy as to whether Tupuxuara is closer to the azhdarchids (the group that includes the giant Texan form Quetzalcoatlus) or to Tapejara and its relatives.” ..wikipedia

It is of course unlikely that Tupuxuara is the man-eating culprit if he was truly toothless as science supposes.

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