Fossil moa bone

The Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum

'Owen's work is a wonderful demonstration of how knowledge and comparative anatomy can be used to interpret fossils of extinct creatures like the moa.'
Dr Paul Taylor, palaeobiologist

Museum founder Sir Richard Owen was famous for being able to look at small pieces of bone and correctly reconstruct animals. The bone Owen is holding in this portrait was sent to him from New Zealand in 1839.

Initially he had just one broken piece of bone to look at, but Owen used his anatomical knowledge to infer that it came from an enormous bird that could not fly and had gone extinct. It was a bold theory, as such a bird had never been seen in neither nature nor the fossil record. But Owen was proved correct when palaeontologists later found complete skeletons of the giant flightless bird, which stood up to 3.6 metres tall. Owen named the species Dinornis novaezealandiae.

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  • Title: Fossil moa bone
  • Location: North Island, NZ
  • Subject Keywords: The Anatomy of the Past
  • Age: 20,000 years