Thanks for the lesson in wisdom, Daisy – but who owns moa bones found on a public beach?

"Betcha I'll be famous when they find my bones on the beach in a few hundred years..."

“Betcha I’ll be famous when they find my bones on the beach in a few hundred years…”

Alf has acquired some more wisdom this morning, even though he already was well blessed in this department.

He has learned it is unwise to pick things up on a public beach and then try to sell them.

He has no great urge to go looking for things on public beaches and trying to sell them, it should be understood.

But he knows that some of his constituents are apt to go to the beach, and he is passing on his newly acquired wisdom to these constituents to help them avoid trouble.

The wisdom in this case has been imparted by a South Taranaki iwi negotiator who has pitched in to discourage a bloke who is trying to sell a bone which he reckons is a moa bone.

The vendor is a Hawera fellow who wants to be known only as Ray, no doubt because he anticipated the furor that has been sparked by his selling of moa bones on Trade Me, which suggests he is not quite as unwise as Daisy might think.

The list of fossils he claims to have picked up include kuri dog bones, dog teeth and moa bone fragments.

He claims to have found the bones while walking along a beach some years ago.

But this sheila from the local iwi has publicly chided him and questioned his savvy.

Ngaruahine chief negotiator Daisy Noble described the practice of “finding” suspected moa bones and selling them as unwise.

This remark raises some interesting questions.

Alf is not sure if it is unwise to find suspected moa bones – or whether one’s wisdom is found to be wanting only when the bones one might find are put up for sale.

Frankly, he thinks it’s the silly buggers who buy the bones who have lost their marbles. Let’s face it: these bones done’t make good soup and much cheaper ones can be found for giving to the dog.

The iwi sheila isn’t the only one giving Ray a hard time.

The auction was condemned by Whanganui Regional Museum natural history curator Mike Dickison because there was no proof the items weren’t dug up from a known archaeological site.

This raises another good reason for steering clear of the bones.

But Ray and the museum bloke seem sure they are genuine.

While Ray, who calls himself razor and razor52 online, concedes he has little proof the bones were what he said they were, his daughter, who was studying to be an archaeologist, believed they are the real deal.

Dickison had little doubt either.

“Of course they are moa bones,” he said. “It’s a bird bone, it’s not a mammal bone and it’s far too large to be anything else.”

A New Plymouth archaeologist, Ivan Bruce, has been consulted on the matter of probity.

He said it could be hard to tell if the bones were legitimate from photos alone but it wouldn’t take long to test their authenticity with the appropriate authorities.

This was what the seller should have done in the first place, he said.

But dear old Daisy has another grouch.

She is banging on about the auction highlighting “a troubling double standard”.

“If something is dug up on Maori land, everything stops and the Historic Place Act kicks in,” she said.

“Yet someone can walk along the beach, pick them up and go ahead and sell them.”

The rules needed to be tightened up, she said. “We are talking about things that are part of our history.”

Daisy does not tell us who should own anything dug up on a beach that (at least for now) is a public beach.

But Alf has his an inkling of what she might be thinking.

The bones are taonga and belong to indigenous persons.

This would extend the practice nobody much questions whereby stranded whales are handed over to indigenous persons, who proceed to take anything worthwhile from the creature’s body. So far as Alf can see, taxpayers then cough up to bury what remains.

A typical incident was reported just before Christmas.

An ancient Maori custom is underway in the Eastern Bay of Plenty after one of the biggest whale strandings the area has ever seen.

Fifty pilot whales have died near Whakatane despite attempts to refloat them.

Local iwi are preparing to remove the whales’ jawbones in a traditional way that may seem gruesome to some.

Whale expert Ramari Stewart told ONE News she has seen nothing but “absolute respect” for the animals and their remains.

“And I’d hope that in time people’s attitude toward us, to what we do, will change.”

Iwi also plan to extract oil from the whales, which can be made in to medicine.

This is a splendid example of the meaning being given to “partnership” nowadays under The Treaty.

The museum fellow would like the ownership issue tested in court.

“There probably needs to be some case law looking at whether moa bones are considered taonga, which are protected by the Protected Objects Act.”

He also said it was time the South Taranaki District Council stepped in.

“The local council and the local museum should undertake an archaeological investigation of that site once and for all. To record the information before it disappears.”

As for Ray and the rewards he can expect for his beach-combing, the highest of three bids sitting last night was reported to be just under $60.

An overseas buyer has been refunded because Ray was alerted to the rules on selling NZ fossils overseas

“…and you should always contact ministry of culture and heritage first anyway very sorry about that and hope I didn’t offend anyone,” he wrote.

In a country where people are easily offended, of course, he has caused offence.

He will be that much wiser for his experience, Alf trusts.

One Response to Thanks for the lesson in wisdom, Daisy – but who owns moa bones found on a public beach?

  1. Mike says:

    I’m the museum curator. To answer your question, under the current law anyone can own and sell moa bones not taken from DoC land. But what the newspaper didn’t mention was this seller has listed over 4800 moa bones, probably all from the same archaeological site, over the last couple of years. It’s hard to believe they were all just lying on the beach. Excavating an archaeological site without a permit (let alone flogging bits off on Trade Me for pocket money) is against the law.

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