Monument Features

Cultural Feature: Mystery Islands

Aerial image of Nihoa.
Aerial image of Nihoa. Photo Credit: Andy Collins

Nihoa and Mokumanamana are both considered "Mystery Islands" - the once-inhabited but now abandoned outposts at the farthest reaches of Polynesian migration - which have been integral in describing how Polynesia was purposefully rather than accidentally peopled, as was suggested earlier in the 20th century. Archaeological studies have been highly influential in understanding how sustained inter-archipelago and inter-island voayaging were required to sustain human life on Polynesian Mystery Islands (Diamond 2005; Weisler 1994, 1995, 1997, 2002). As Weisler (1996: 627) notes, "so-called Mystery Islands," with their marginal ecological conditions and isolation taxed the capabilities of Polynesian colonization to the physical and social limits. They document not only how Polynesians settled marginal places with minimal resources but offer an example of a remarkable achievement in the history of human life: how humans adapted to some of the most isolated and extreme living conditions on Earth.

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