Digital moa

Skull of little bush moa. Source: Massey University. Photo: Daniel Thomas.

Digital moa taking flight online, Massey University, 12 October 2015

A three-dimensional digital moa skeleton is being built bone-by-bone by staff at Massey University and the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

The digital version of these ancient bird bones will become a learning resource for the public, including secondary and tertiary students.

Massey University ornithologist Dr Daniel Thomas is leading the project under the supervision of museum natural sciences collections manager Jason Froggatt, and with the assistance of zoology technician Jessica Hiscox.

The trio have spent several days scanning the bones from Anomalopteryx didiformis individually in the museum, which Dr Thomas says has been “a long process” but with “high quality results”.

So far, they have assembled the legs of the moa and are showing their progress on a ‘Building a moa’ web page. The website, entitled Evolution in Isolation, includes other three-dimensional digital models, wildlife photos and sound recordings from animals that live in New Zealand, from spiders to songbirds.

Dr Thomas says the recent trend of displaying three-dimensional digital versions of museum objects online has been supported by major museums internationally, like the Smithsonian Institution and the London Natural History Museum.

“We are going to see more of this in New Zealand. For a while now, researchers have used CT scanners to make digital versions of 3-D bones, but few museums have this technology in-house. The 3-D scanner we have is portable, so it can be brought into museum collections”.

Mr Froggatt is pleased to have new ways of showcasing their collections.

“By providing access to our moa collections we are enabling students to experience moa anatomy in full digital detail,” he says. “From 3D printing bones for onsite programmes to having interactive images available online, these digital opportunities create exciting new engagement possibilities for Auckland Museum.”

The team hopes to complete their digital moa skeleton over the next few months.