Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 23, 2004

Treasure trove of artifacts discovered on Kaho'olawe

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

WAILUKU, Maui — Archaeologists working alongside Kaho'olawe clearance crews have found a treasure trove of artifacts, including roughly 650 more features than were previously known to exist.

"Considering the arid environment, the erosion and the use by the military, we were surprised at how many newly discovered sites there were," said Hal Hammatt of Cultural Surveys Hawai'i, the Navy's archaeology contractor.

The discoveries were part of the largest archaeological project in Hawai'i history, a six-year $12 million effort that was integrated into the $400 million federally funded cleanup of unexploded ordnance from the former military bombing range.

As the Navy's contractor continues to haul away unexploded ordnance, the Kaho'olawe Island Reserve Commission is preparing to transform the 45-square-mile island into a cultural preserve.

On Friday, commissioners heard for the first time the far-ranging scope of cultural material identified on the island.

Hammatt said nearly 3,000 features were recorded, including new examples of every type of archaeological feature. Some of the new major sites include a habitation complex on the south slope of Lua Makika, the island's 1,477-foot summit, and a major petroglyph field.

The original archaeological survey conducted in the late 1970s and early 1980s identified 2,377 features.

During the cleanup project, 20 archaeologists examined all 11,500 of the island's square-meter grids.

The artifacts were mapped, photographed and catalogued in a computerized database that will be turned over to the commission.

"The amount of data is fantastic; it's absolutely tremendous," said Stanton Enomoto, the commission's acting executive director. "It is one of the most important legacies of this project, and it will provide years and years of interpretation."

James Putnam, the project's civilian director, put it this way: "There must be a thousand Ph.D. theses out there."

Hammatt said there's a greater concentration of archaeological artifacts on Kaho'olawe than any other Hawaiian island, with the possible exception of Ni'ihau, which has yet to be studied.

The bounty of artifacts is not necessarily a reflection of the level of human activity, he said, but of the fact that the island escaped the destructive forces of human population and development. The uninhabited island was a ranch before it was confiscated by the military at the start of World War II.

"It's pretty amazing how little impact the bombing did have (on the artifacts)," he said.

Hammatt said the study confirmed that the island's economic activities were primarily agriculture, fishing and the quarrying of adze tools.

The most striking aspect of Kaho'olawe's archaeology, he said, is the number of sites and features exposed by erosion at the top of the island.

"It's absolutely phenomenal. There's no other island like it," he said.

Many sites were found close to the Lua Makika crater, the island's agricultural breadbasket. Most of them, Hammatt said, were on the southwest side of the summit in order to be shielded from the winds channeling through the isthmus of Maui.

Also noteworthy are the relatively undisturbed and pristine valley sites on the north coast. Hammatt said he would get chicken skin amid the concentration of ancient sites, leaving him with "a sense of origin."

"It's like there's a house site here and a house site there, and you have to physically watch your step. It's an amazing place."

Reach Timothy Hurley at thurley@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 244-4880.

Correction: Hal Hammatt's name was misspelled in a previous version of thist story.