Aspects of History
Some of the broad goals of archaeology include and
the understanding of change in prehistory. Hawaiian archaeology is, in part,
concerned with the problems of how the people who settled a group of islands
in the North Pacific came to the "Hawaiian" - that is, certainly Polynesian,
but nonetheless unique. The answer involves determining the origin and culture
of the first settlers. It involves exploring the way in which these
settlers and their descendants met the possibilities and limitations of an
island environment over a period of some 1,500 years. And it involves
understanding the consequences of isolation from the rest of the Polynesian
world. The theme of Hawaiian prehistory thus becomes the human use of an
isolated and bounded environment, which resulted in the culture encountered by
Europeans in 1778.
The Hawaiian World at Contact
The Hawaiian archipelago lies over 4,000 km north of
the Society Islands and nearly 5,000 km due west of the Jalisco coast of
Mexico. The islands stretch across the Tropic of Cancer, with the main groups
toward the southeast and a string of island remnants toward the northwest.
These sub-tropical islands, volcanic in origin, have great diversity in
landform, rainfall, and vegetation. If an island is visualized as once a cone
(or several cones), its topography may be understood as a consequence of the
amount of erosion of the cone's surface. To windward (north-east), the
direction of the prevailing wind and rain, erosion has formed deep valleys,
usually with permanent streams, on the older cones. to leeward, the cone sides
are poorly dissected or are cut by valleys usually shallower than those to
windward. Coastal plains have formed in some areas, with trough-like valleys
behind them. The coastlines include wave-cut cliffs, rocky slopes, and beaches
of cobbles or sand.
In 1778 this landscape of Hawaii was a human
landscape. The Hawaiians were farmers. They cleared vegetation by cutting and
burning, controlled streams through the construction of dams, canals, and
terraces; cultivated the soil of slop9es and valley bottoms, and constructed
field lines of stone to restrict erosion. 'The Hawaiians were builders. Under
a complex social system, massive temples of piled stone were constructed and
are still visible in imposing locations around the islands. As far north along
the chain as Necker Island and as high as the upper slopes of the volcano
called Mauna Kea, the Hawaiians left their imprint on the land.
The effective world of the Hawaiians in 1776 was
eight major islands, with a total land area of 16,558 km, spread along an arc
some 500 km long. According to Hawaiian tradition, there had been no contact
with other areas of Polynesia for some twenty generations prior to European
contact. Two small islands, Nihoa and Necker, to the northwest of the main
group, have archaeological remains but were not occupied at contact. Hawaiians
travelled between islands by paddling or sailing canoes; however, several wide
and often dangerous channels, up to 115 km across, limited communication. The
wider channels created four interaction areas, areas with stronger ties
internally than externally: Kauai and Niihau; Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, and
Kahoolawe; and Hawaii. Under the best of conditions communication between
Kauai and Hawaii may have taken five or six days with the use of special
runners and canoe crews.
The largest island, Hawaii, is composed of five
volcanoes, the highest of which is 4,205 m above se level. The island has
10,415 km of land and 425 km of coastline. Kahoolawe, the smallest of the
major islands, was formed by a single volcano and is 450 m high, with 116 km
of land and 46 km of coastline. Transportation across islands before contact
was on foot because there are only a few kilometers of navigable streams and
there were no pack animals at the time. An extensive system of trails had been
developed which, combined with coastal travel by canoe, allowed relatively
rapid communication on each island.
The remains of such trails provide the clearest
record of Hawaiian movement and are found extending inland and along the
coast. Trails were marked in a variety of ways. Waterworn stones were placed
across rough lava fields, and small cairns were placed as markers particularly
atop knolls. Many sections of trail are corridors through field structures.
Often a trail may be identified by a shallow trough-like depression and a
scattering of discarded sea shells. Caves or small sheltering walls of piled
stone were used as resting places where trails ran for long distances through
Petroglyphs (rock carvings) are frequently found in
association with trails, particularly in areas of smooth lava. Although
petroglyphs served many purposes, those associated with trails probably were
mementos left by travellers - perhaps to record events of importance, perhaps
for luck. The petroglyphic depictions include canoes, travellers, and carrying
poles, and so provide evidence for several forms of transportation used by the
For the Hawaiians as farmers, the major resources of
the land were fertile soil and water. Flowing water was used to irrigate the
alluvial bottoms of valleys and sections of coastal plains. Canals, led from
streams or springs and brought to irrigated fields, were constructed of earth
and stone embankments. In many areas the beds of small streams were terraced
and converted to pond fields. There is a general relation between landform and
the development of irrigation: the steeper the land, the less likely it was to
have been irrigated; and with land that was irrigated, the steeper the slope,
the smaller the lot size. Thus while the extent of irrigation was
considerable, construction labour was kept to a minimum.
The staple grown in the irrigated fields was taro (Colocasia
esculenta), a plant with many varieties that were cultivated also under
non-irrigated conditions. The other major food plant, the sweet potato (Ipomoea
batatas), was exclusively a dry-land crop. It was grown in fields that had
60 to 200 cm of rain per year with adequate sunlight. The dry taro could be
grown primarily where rainfall exceeded 120 cm per year.
Other cultigens included coconut (Cocos nucifera),
banana (Musa paradisica), and breadfruit (Artocarpus incisus).
Where possible these and other plants were grown in concert with sweet
potatoes and taro, even though the largest percentage of land was devoted to
the latter two. The agriculture was multi-crop, and agricultural techniques
were mixed. Irrigated and non-irrigated fields were often adjacent, and the
dry cultivation techniques ranged from swidden to permanent field. Taro grown
in irrigated wet valleys and sweet potatoes grown on dry slopes represent the
extremes of the system. Irrigation fields on Kauai were described in this way
in the late 1700s.
The whole plantation is laid out with great neatness
and is intersected by small elevated banks conveying little streams from the
above aqueduct to flood distant fields on each side at pleasure. This same
observer provided an account of the dry-land field system above Kealakekua
The space between these (breadfruit) trees did not
lay idle. It was chiefly planted with sweet potatoes and rows of cloth plant.
.. For several miles around us there was not a spot that would admit of it but
what was with great labour and industry cleared of the loose stones and
Only some 10 to 15 percent of the island of Hawaii
was under cultivation at contact because agriculture was constrained in great
inland stretches by low rainfall, recent lava flows, or high altitude. A much
greater percentage of each of the other large islands was under cultivation.
The total agricultural complex included pig (Sus scrofa), dog (Canis
familiaris), fowl (Callus gallus), and several species of fish. All
of these were dependent to some extent upon agricultural production or the
agricultural environment. Fishponds were often incorporated into the lower
areas of the large irrigation complexes. The primary tools used in agriculture
were adzes for vegetation clearance (used in conjunction with fire), a simple
wooden digging stick for tilling, and cutting implements (perhaps bamboo and
basaltic-glass - a variety of obsidian) for plant trimming.
Other resources of the land came from the upland
forests. Items collected included some food plants, fibers, wood for house and
canoe construction, and a few animals - particularly birds, which were hunted
for food and as a source of feathers for cloaks and headdresses. Some
cultigens, especially taro and banana, were planted in the forests and allowed
to go wild to serve as potential food supply in case of crop failure. Streams
were also a source of food where fish (particularly of the family Gobiidae)
and prawns could be collected.
Another major resource of the land was stone. Stones
of every variety - waterworn cobbles, talus fragments, volcanic cinder blocks
- were used in construction. Locales with stone of particular qualities were
quarried for the manufacture of tools: fine-grained basalt for adzes,
basaltic-glass for cutting implements, and scoracious basalt for abraders.
The ocean was the primary source of protein for the
Hawaiians. They obtained fish, shellfish, squid, crusaceans, and, on occasion,
marine mammals. The most diversified tool assemblage of the Hawaiians was for
ocean resource exploitation and included fishhooks, nets with sinkers, traps
and octopus lures, as well as manufacturing tools (such as abraders made of
sea-urchin spines or coral) and canoes for transport.
Saltwater fishponds were constructed on all of the
main islands by extending a wall from the shoreline over a shallow reef to
form an enclosing pond, or by walling off the mouth of an estuary. Fish were
not simply trapped within the ponds but planted, cared for, and fed.
Furthermore, the ocean provided salt. It was
collected in dry coastal areas by evaporation, frequently in prepared
"saltpans" - large stones with basin-like depressions, either natural or
manufactured by pecking.
An environment not only provides resources, it poses
hazards. In Hawaii, tsunamis (tidal waves), mud and rock slides, and volcanic
eruptions (on Maui and Hawaii) were all hazards to life and property, but the
greatest threat came from drought and flood, the hazards to agriculture.
Dry-land farming was subject to periodic failure, particularly in areas of
marginal rainfall. Flash floods even now are quite common in the islands and
can easily destroy fields and settlements. Floods and drought-produced famines
are recorded in the traditional literature and in early historic records.
The archaeological remains of Hawaiian resource use
are extensive, although many have been destroyed by the same hazards the early
Hawaiians faced, especially tsunamis and floods. Yet many Hawaiian structures
were well engineered. A number of fishponds continue to survive the pounding
of the ocean and are still in use today. Remants of irrigation fields can be
found in the upper portions of the valleys on Oahu, while whole irrigation
complexes, some also still in use, exist in the valleys of other islands. The
terrace facings of stacked stone are still in evidence, some as high as 2 and
3 m, stone-lined canals can be traced; and, on occasion, a terrace soil is
still naturally irrigated, long after abandonment, and wild taro continues to
grow. In dry valleys and on slopes, dry agricultural features of stone
alignments, terraces, low walls, and mounds have been identified. These
features are seldom imposing, but in some areas they are dramatic because of
their extent. Excavations into agricultural fields have shown that pond-fields
commonly developed fine clay above a hardpan as well as a zone of heavy iron
staining, while dry fields show the disturbance of cultivation and frequently
a heavy scatter of charcoal fragments.
Portable artifacts are found primarily in areas of
manufacture, storage, or discard, rather than in places of use. Adzes are
found in the largest numbers at the quarry sites where they were roughed out,
or they are located in association with structures where they were being
finished or sharpened. The adzes produced at about the time of contact varied
widely in size, but tended to be quadrangular in cross section and tanged or
flat. They were often finely ground and polished on at least two sides.
The greatest percentage of fishhooks are located in
sites that were the temporary shelters of fishermen. Fishhooks made of wood,
bone, and shell were manufactured in a variety of sizes and shapes, but at
contact three forms predominated: a single-piece hook with either a jabbing or
rotating point; a two-piece hook; and a trolling hook. The line attachment for
single-piece hooks was generally knob shaped.
A wide variety of other nonperishable portable
artifacts, such as pestles, pounders, and some flakes, was employed in
obtaining or processing food. Flakes of volcanic glass, rarely more than 2 cm
in length, were produced for cutting and scraping. Perishable artifacts, such
as matting and gourd containers, are found occasionally in dry caves.
The resources used by the Hawaiians fall into
concentric zones on each island: the ocean, occasional reef, and shoreline;
agricultural oands of the valleys and slopes; and upland forest. In general,
resources were exploited by means of the basic Hawaiian land unit, the
ahupua'a, which extended from the coast inland, thereby cutting across the
resource zones. Each island was divided radially by numerous ahupua'a, the
boundaries of which tended to follow natural topography. Ahupua'a varied in
size, but few were more than 2 km wide at the coast. They extended from 5 to
20 km inland.
The nature of ahupua'a social and economic
organization has long been a problem in Hawaiian anthropology. Recent work
suggests that the people who lived within an ahu0pua'a tended to form an
economically self-sufficient unit. Not every scholar agrees with this on
material distribution is needed. Although some form of distribution of items
from localized resources, high-quality adzes for example, probably took place,
the mechanisms for such distributions are unknown.
Ahupua'a boundaries were of major importance because
they defined the territories of use. They were marked with cairns or
identified by natural landmarks such as rock outcrops or valley rims. The word
ahupua'a itself is composed of two words meaning pig altar or pig cairn,
thought by some to refer to a structure, sometimes called an altar, located at
the border of an ahupua'a for the placement of tribute (symbolized by the
pig). No such tribute cairn has been identified archaeologically, but markers
that follow historically recorded ahupua'a boundaries have been noticed in a
number of areas. Inland trails may also have served as boundaries.
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Organization of People
Hawaiian society was divided into two major classes,
so-called commoners and chiefs, the latter subdivided into at least two ranks,
with an additional segment forming a special category of priests. Local
populations were organized into family units, although among all social ranks
males ate separately from females in a special men's house, which also housed
a local shrine and was used for a number of activities, such as adz
manufacture. The common people of an ahupua'a maintained a certain amount of
social distance from members of other ahup0ua'a by local endogamy. In
contrast, the chiefs developed geographically extensive marriage networks.
The ahupua'a were organized into large political
units, each of which was under the control of a ruling chief, usually a male,
who "owned" the land and its produce. He or his representative allocateed the
use of the land to the commoners, who supported themselves and the chiefs from
its production. An overseer, usually a low-ranking chief, represented the
interests of the ruling chief within each ahupua'a. The commoners generally
remained on the land through succeeding generations, as the land was
reassigned to them as the chiefs' administrations changed.
The ideological support for the hereditary ranking
system lay in the belief that chiefs were chiefs because they were
genealogically closer to the gods than were commoners. This relationship was
ratified through the actions of the priests, who carried out ceremonies of
propitiation and dedication on behalf of the chiefs. The gods were also
considered to be the power behind natural forces that brought rain and good
fortune on the one hand and drought and misfortune on the other. Thus the
actions of the priests as representatives of the chiefs provided ideological
security for the commoners.
Among the chiefs intense competition for power for
themselves and their lines expressed itself through diplomacy, marriage, and
warfare. At the time of contact, there were four independent chiefdoms, each
with a ruling chief. The four territories centered on Kauai, Oahu, Maui, and
Hawaii. Each island was subdivided into political districts, which according
to the traditions from time to time of contact had acquired his domain by
first taking control of two districts of the island, then conquering the
ruling chief of the remaining four districts.
Hawaii had one of the most complex Polynesian
societies, as defined by the sharply bounded endogamous classes, the number of
chiefly ranks, and the power held by the ruling chiefs. The development of
this complexity is a problem of much concern in Hawaiian anthropology and an
important issue in the archaeology of the islands. The material reflections of
social relations are often inadequate, but there is some evidence for Hawaiian
class separation and social units. As suggested by recent detailed analysis of
residence patterns, a commoner's family ordinarily occupied one or two
structures, a sleeping house and perhaps a cooking or utility house. These
took the archaeological form of pavings, low platforms, or enclosures,
averaging about 35 m in area, which served as the foundation for
pole-and-thatch houses. Small hearths are found in sleeping houses in some
instances, while cooking houses may have an earth-oven and perhaps an
additional hearth. A number of structures have been archaeologically
identified as men's houses. They are platforms or enclosures, averaging over
100 sq m in size, and may include several stepped terraces. Unworked pieces of
coral and a platform, perhaps shrine features, are also indicative of a men's
The household of a chief resided in a cluster of
several structures, including one or more of the following: a sleeping house,
a men's house, a female eating house, a storehouse, and perhaps a canoe shed
and house temple. The rank of the chief can be related to the number of
structures or to the overall labour expenditure in housing construction
relative to that of other clusters.
Habitation complexes of chiefs and commoners have
been located on bare lava fields, in areas with some soil buildings around the
structures, or buried in alluvial deposits or sand dunes. Excavations have
evidenced multiple construction on rebuilding of structures and usually have
produced scatterings of shell, flakes of basalt or basaltic glass, and
fragments of adzes, fish-hooks, and abrading tools. The most common features
are earthen ovens or hearths of various forms.
Two other kinds of structures, slides and temples,
were primarily associated with the activities of the chiefs. The slides are
long ramps of stone used for a toboggan-like sport. The temples (heiau)
have been described in great detail ethnographically but have not been studies
recently as a structural class. A good many of the major temples in one of
contact have survived. They are stone structures, as much as 4,000 m in area.
some are stone-filled platforms, many with aides several metres high. Others
are constructed as a series of large, stepped platforms or have great walled
enclosures. These originally served as the foundation or enclosure for a
number of structures of pole and thatch, where ceremonies were carried out.
The major temples are usually conspicuously located on hilltops above bays, on
high sand dunes, or at the upper edge of ridges on valley sides.
Burial pattern has been argued to be reflection of
differences between chiefs and commoners, but the contact practices are not
well-known. In some areas burial platforms were constructed, and it has been
suggested that platform size was related to the rank of the buried chief,
however, there is some uncertainty about the dating of these structures. The
data may also be skewed by6 the reported practice at hiding bones to prevent
their use of magical practices. By the time of contact, in some areas, the
bones of ruling chiefs were placed in mausoleums - places of great sanctity -
one of which is still preserved at Honaunau, Hawaii, as National
Historic Park. the house of the chiefs' bones is there associated with two
temples and a huge wall that isolates the sacred area on a spit of lava at the
The archaeological remains of warfare between
competing chiefs are primarily sanctuaries, either ridge forts or refuge
caves, defensible areas in which small groups of people could hide during
conflict. Ridgetop refuges are found on most of the islands: these are located
on knife-edge ridges with trenches 3 to 4 m deep cut across the ridges to
leave a central area of isolation. Stones could then be dropped on attackers
as they crossed the trenches. Many caves were used for hiding, and a number of
fortified caves have been found on the island of Hawaii. Located in lave
fields, they are entered through the collapsed roof of a lava tube or bubble.
Their openings are walled to allow passage for only one person in a stooped
position and give those inside the best defensive advantage.
Although fields and structures are reported to have
been destroyed in warfare, no direct evidence of this has been noted
Population of Settlement Pattern
The Hawaiian population at contact is estimated to
have been between 200,000 and 250,000, with the following geographic
breakdown: Hawaii, 80,.000 to 100,000; Maui, 45,000 to 60,000; Oahu, 35,000 to
50,000; Kauai, 20,000 to 30,000; Molokai, 8,000 to 10,000; Lanai, 3,000 to
4,000; and Niihau, 500 to 1,000 (no estimate for Kahoolawe).
The first census records from the early 1800s
indicate a great range of population size per ahupua'a. In a deteiled study in
one area of Kauai it was found that the size of ahupua'a populations, which
ranged from 85 to 522 in an 1832 census, correlated strongly with the amount
of agricultural land within the unit. Ahupua'a that contained irrigation
complexes such as those on Kauai were generally defined by the limits of the
drainage area. Thus the larger the irrigation resource base (drainage basin),
the larger the population of the ahupua'a. However, in areas with
non-irrigated agriculture populations were of approximately equal size per
ahupua'a, with each ahupua'a having an approximately equal production base. In
other words, the richer the resources, the smaller the ahupua'a; and the
poorer the resources, the larger the ahupua'a, a situation that resulted in
more or less equal population distribution per unit in each case, people were
concentrated were food was concentrated.
If a wide range of resources is considered, four
types of resource areas can be defined.
(1) Maximum resource areas (Concentration of the
greatest variety and most productive resources; agricultural land (good
alluvial valley or optimum rainfall) with associated animal population,
fishponds, central collection area, and offshore fishing. Such areas include
Kaneohe, Oahu, Waipio, Hawaii, and central Kona. Hawaii.
(2) Secondary resource areas. Productive zones, but
limited in size or lacking one or two highly productive areas; smaller
alluvial valleys or regions adjacent to the maximum zones where rainfall may
be less than optimum.
(3) Minimum resource areas. Areas with only one or
two resource zones providing limited productivity; coastal areas with poor
fishing, and marginal inland agriculture. An example is the coast of north
(4) Specialized resource areas. Areas with high
productivity of only one resource - for example, areas with excellent coastal
fishing, but little or no adjacent agriculture; inland areas available for
productive agriculture but well removed from the coast (such as Waimea,
Hawaii); and the inland areas of some of the deepest valleys.
A contact, population distribution was positively
correlated with the first three categories. Land subdivision was also
correlated with these resource areas, as the smaller ahupua'a and the greatest
populations were the maximum to secondary resource areas. A third correlation
was 3ith district boundaries. Districts centred on maximum resource areas, and
boundaries between districts fell in secondary to minimum resource areas or
along natural boundaries dividing such areas.
The majority of people maintained their permanent
residence along the coast with temporary use shelters inland for specialized
work, particularly in the agricultural fields. There were two exceptions to
this. Scattered permanent residences appear to have existed inland in
association with extensive irrigation fields, and small-scale permanent
settlements may have been located in at least some of the inland specialized
agricultural areas, such as Waimea, Hawaii. permanent inland settlement in dry
agricultural fields has been suggested but not clearly demonstrated.
The chiefs of a district resided predominantly in the
largest centres of population, that is, in the maximum resource areas. The
many chiefs and their retainers required a large amount of food, including a
preponderance of fishpond production and a great share of the pigs and dogs.
Goods from outlying areas were collected for the chiefs, who also moved about
the district, particularly to good surfing ort fishing areas, helping to
distribute the burden of their support.
In areas not destroyed by modern culture, the
archaeological sites reflect the contact settlement. Maximum resource areas
are dense with permanent sites composed of stone platforms and low walls, many
structures being of massive boulder construction. In contrast, only a few
scattered structures can be found along a coastline of minimum resources.
Many temporary-use sites are also found
archaeologically. These include caves and stacked, stone-wall windbreaks. The
cave sites at the coast served as fisherman's shelters and those inland as
rest areas or temporary shelters for exploitation of specialized resources,
such as adz stone quarries. The low-walled shelters are frequently found in
non-irrigated inland agricultural areas. Excavations in these sites have
produced evidence of sporadic occupation, such as superimposed hearths and
lenses of debris. Coastal caves commonly have relatively deep midden deposits
(over 30 or 40 cm) and numbers of fish-hook fragments.
The first known European sighting of Hawaii was made
on January 19, 1778, by an English expedition under Captain James Cook,
heading north from the South Pacific in search of a northwest passage across
This was the first recording of what would become a
major source of information about early historic Hawaii, the observations of
explorers, travellers, and traders. As Hawaii became westernized in the
nineteenth century, voluminous descriptions of Hawaiian life and events became
part of the archival material: records of missionaries and planters; tax,
marriage, and census records, land claims, court cases; and newspapers. The
"memory" culture of Hawaii was also recorded during this period by island
residents, Hawaiian and European. Some Hawaiian writers called on their own
experiences in recording material about the Hawaiian past. The Europeans and
many of the Hawaiians also collected great quantities of information from
Hawaiian informants about traditional customs, myths, legends, and histories.
As in the history of all contact, however, the people
making the observations were also involved in events that changed what they
were observing. Venereal disease was immediately introduced. Iron nails were
converted to fishhooks before the eyes of the first Europeans to reach
Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii. From the first encounter, the observations and records
were of increasingly "acculturated" Hawaii. those collections of traditional
cultural data are subject to the problems of misunderstanding, omission, and
leveling of original and social differences. Archaeology, despite its many
limitations, provides an independent reference to the past. It is a source of
information about the period before contact, the culture at contact, and the
events following contact. To understand how sites can be used, it is first
necessary to explore their history per se, that is, how they became sites and
whether those that remain after years of destruction are representative of the
range of past occupation.
When Cook arrived, there was little that could be
called archaeological, there were few abandoned areas, no major ruins of
earlier or different peoples (although legends referred to such people), no
lost cities; mysterious mounds, or decaying monuments. The "sites" were alive
and well, lived in and lived upon. European contact changed this. Areas of
Hawaiian occupation would become Hawaiian ruins.
Beginning in the early 1800s some areas began to lose
population, the use of the land began to change, and old ways of life were
transformed. The infant death rate increased and the birth rate declined as
the population was reduced by some 50 percent in the first 60 years of
contact. Political and economic changes brought redistribution of the
population. The islands were consolidated into a single Hawaiian monarchy, and
European trade became a major factor in the economy. Areas favourable for the
anchorage of European vessels saw the growth of new centers of population and
trade. Introduction of new plants and animals altered agricultural practices.
While many of these changes occurred gradually or
without sharp boundaries, a major socio-religious change occurred in 1819 with
the deliberate abandonment of the old "state" religion and the practices
associated with it, particularly the separation of male and female activities.
This led to the abandonment or destruction of temples and men's houses, and
changed relationships within the family unit.
As some structures were being abandoned, many more
were modified where Hawaiians remained on the land but altered the ways in
which they lived. European artifacts of metal and glass were added to or
replaced the traditional assemblage. Homesteads and settlements were
reorganized or rebuilt. The nineteenth century became the century of the stone
wall. Houses, yards, fields, and roads were enclosed or lined with stacked
stone walls, in response to the great members of animals to be controlled, to
new concepts of property, and to the make-work needs for prisoners. Toward the
end of the nineteenth century many Hawaiian settlements were abandoned as
economic independence was lost, as commercial demands lured people into towns
or plantations, as transportation of produce became too costly, or as property
was lot through indebtedness.
There are areas in Hawaii today where these
nineteenth-century abandoned settlements, and the occupations that existed
before them, may be found as archeological sites. But large-scale eradication
of sites began with nineteenth-century plantation agriculture and has
continued to the present with urban and resort expansion. No one has assessed
how much this distorts knowledge of Hawaiian archaeology, but for some islands
- certainly Oahu - the remains of much of the past have perished.
The origin of archaeology in Hawaii is firmly linked
with the founding in 1889 of the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum for Polynesian
Ethnology and Natural History. Although there was an interest in antiquities
prior to this time, the museum brought organization to the study of Hawaiian
material culture and sites, particularly temples, fishponds, and petroglyphs.
Archaeological field surveys were begun around the turn of the century, and
the first controlled excavation in Hawaii was the digging of a shelter deposit
on Kahoolawe in 1913. Only very limited excavation were carried out over the
next 37 years, a period characterized by broad-scale surveys aimed at the
location and categorization of major surface features on each island and the
collection of local information about their history.
This archaeological work produced no "prehistory."
There are several ways to explain this, one of which is by examination of the
relation between data and problems. A conference held in Honolulu in 1920
emphasized the difficulties with Polynesian origins and suggested a program of
ethnographic and archaeological survey in Polynesia for the collection of
comparative data. Stratigraphic excavation was suggested, and culture area and
age area were the theoretical frameworks for explanation. In Hawaii Emory
began a problem-oriented survey, but no substantial excavations were carried
out. The archaeological material in Hawaii proved hard to control
typologically and chronologically. Artifacts such as adzes and temples did not
lend themselves to easy comparison, because they lacked the stylistic
variability of pottery or projectile points, which was leading to success in
mainland American archaeology in the creation of archaeological "cultures" and
diffusion patterns. The sites in Hawaii were generally thought to be shallow
and unsuitable for excavation (despite the results on Kahoolawe), surface
structures were hard to categorize, and portable artifacts were generally few
in number and limited in variety. The research carried out stimulated no
controversy; there was nothing like the Moa-hunter material of New Zealand.
McAllister (1933), who conducted surveys on Kahoolawe and Oahu, noted that the
material from Stoke's 1913 excavation yielded some artifacts adequate in
number for comparison, but with no variation throughout the site. In other
words, there was no evidence for significant change in the archaeological
record, and without change, what was to be explained? there was nothing to
cast doubt on the Polynesian origins of the Hawaiians, but neither was there
much evidence to aid in determining the specific Hawaiian homeland.
Oral traditions and linguistics (in other words,
non-archaeological data) proved more valuable in dealing with problems of
prehistory than did archaeology. The Hawaiian traditions furnished detailed
accounts of voyaging, wars, famines, and other major events, with an
accompanying time-scale of genealogies that could be converted to years.
Furthermore, comparative ethnology and linguistics were used to postulate
migration and contact histories.
In the 1950s archaeological data and archaeological
questions began to match. The beginnings of radiocarbon dating meant specific
sites could be dated, so that some sort of "absolute" time scale for early
Hawaii could be determined. Stimulus came also from a field school excavation
of a rock shelter that produced a variety of artifacts. The possibility of
prehistoric change was revived (Emory 1968). A program to develop a framework
for Hawaiian archaeology was devised, which focused on a search for early
components in relatively deep stratified sites. Cave and sand dune deposits
provided the models for this kind of site and led to excavations at South
Point, Hawaii. this research produced evidence of relatively early Hawaiian
occupation and a clear demonstration of artifact change through time,
primarily morphology (Emory et al. 1968). This change was used to develop a
seriation, with a stratigraphic base, that could be used for temporal
references - the first use of archaeological data to solve an archaeological
problem in Hawaii. Specific ideas about Hawaiian culture history also came
from this work.
In the 1960s work on settlement pattern, subsistence,
and social organization was begun and emphasized the study of local regions.
This orientation, primarily inspired by Green's concept of settlement
archaeology (1967), aligned Hawaiian archaeological problems with the kind of
data of greatest abundance and variety in Hawaii: agricultural and residential
structures. Current problems thus include not only Hawaiian origins, but
patterns of resource use, agricultural change, trade patterns, stone
technology, and the development of complex ranking.
to be continued - more text and relevant
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