Papahānaumokuākea’s Archaeological Resources

Nihoa’s cultural sites and objects.Nihoa and Mokumanamana feature an array of Native Hawaiian archaeological sites unique among known sites in the Hawaiian archipelago and Polynesia. Both islands are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and feature archaeological landscapes containing original materials that largely have not been subject to the anthropogenic disturbances (invasive species, development, etc.) that have commonly occurred at sites found in the main Hawaiian Islands. In addition, the view planes of the islands’ religious sites - an element that is particularly critical in Hawaiian culture - are also undisturbed, an extremely rare condition in Hawai‘i, where development has altered most traditional Native Hawaiian religious sites and their surrounding environments. The few radiocarbon dates from cultural materials found on Nihoa and Mokumanamana have been imprecise at best, estimating human colonization of the islands between 1000 and 1700 AD (Ckeghorn 1988). Oral traditions, historical ship logs and archaeological research point to periods of continuous activity in these islands for at least the past thousand years. All documented Native Hawaiian archaeological sites in Papahānaumokuākea are on Nihoa and Mokumanamana, although a basalt artifact was found on Lisianski Island in 1991, and research on the region has not yet been completed (Kekuewa Kikiloi 2008, personal communication). Although interest is not lacking, Papahānaumokuākea’s isolation and regulatory protections mean that a scant 18 days of archaeological characterization of Mokumanamana’s sites have been conducted between 1923 and the present. This is a meager baseline in comparison with most known archaeological sites. The first archaeological study of Nihoa, conducted by Kenneth P. Emory of Bishop Museum in 1923 and 1924 (Emory 1928), remains its most thorough. Emory recorded 66 of the now 89 known sites and collected approximately 130 artifacts that continue to be stored at Bishop Museum. Expeditions in the 1980s (Cleghorn), 1990s (Irwin), and 2000s (Graves, Kikiloi, Raymond) along with interviews with Native Hawaiian practitioners (e.g., Maly 2003), have contributed to site characterization and interpretation. There are 89 identified archaeological sites on Nihoa and 52 on Mokumanamana, making them some the densest scatters of prehistoric structural sites in Hawai‘i. Nihoa and Mokumanamana hold 45 heiau (shrines) between them. These heiau are made of well-paved terraces and platforms with single, large, upright stones or, more commonly, rows of uprights. The two islands also feature rare, intact archaeological landscapes of a variety of ancient site types, including residential sites, habitation terraces for dryland agriculture and a plethora of ceremonial complexes. Survey and excavation have recovered other types of material culture, including exceptionally detailed stone human-like figures; evidence of cooking, food preparation and storage, manufacture of stone tools and fishing gear; evidence of subsistence activities such as fishing and collecting other marine resources, and cultivating dryland crops such as sweet potato; and ritual activities, including burial of the dead. For example, Bowl Cave, the largest shelter on Mokumanamana, yielded artifacts that included bowls, adzes, fishing sinkers, an awl, a chisel and hammerstone, and a bit of wiliwili, the lightest Hawaiian wood, which was often used for building outriggers on Hawaiian canoes.