Archaeology at the Kūkaʽiwaʽa Landshelf, Kalaupapa National Historical Park
Kalaupapa National Historical Park preserves thousands of archaeological features, many of which date to the time of the kama‘aina and ancient Hawaiians. Recently, National Park Service staff conducted an archaeological survey of a remote area of the park known to have significant features. From April 22 – 26 and May 6-10, cultural resource staff from Kalaupapa National Historical Park camped in the park’s backcountry, on a remote landshelf on Molokai’s north shore, called Kūkaʽiwaʽa. The landshelf is on the eastern border of Waikolu valley, accessible only by boat or helicopter.
Kūka’iwa’a at a distance and on the landshelf.
The helicopter lands at Kūka’iwa’a. Note ‘Ōkala and Mōkapu islands in the background.
The area is heavily vegetated with a native coastal forest of lauhala (Pandanus tectorius) and hau (Hibiscus tiliaceus). The features were obscured by dried lauhala and live vegetation, requiring removal before recording. After the area was mapped, staff replaced the leaves that had been cleared.
Museum Technician, Kellie Ellis, clears lauhala leaves to uncover archaeological features.
Prior archaeological surveys on the landshelf focused on the exposed coastal shelf. Because the area was open it was easy to create a grid and do transects of the landscape. This work revealed a proliferation of traditional Hawaiian dry set rock features, including agricultural terraces, platforms and enclosures. To expand on prior work surveying needed to be done in the heavily vegetated area. However, cutting gridlines was not feasible because of the small crew, short time frame, and destruction to the plants. Instead, a survey corridor through a naturally cleared area was flagged by the Natural Resources Management Division, which ran north to south (makai/mauka). Visible features along this path were recorded, and although not systematic, gave an idea of the types of structures that were once in the area.
Archaeological feature 128 and its associated survey map.
In all, park archaeologist Mary Jane Naone and museum technician, Kellie Ellis, recorded a total of 38 traditional Hawaiian features and subfeatures, including 11 enclosures, 16 terrace segments, 5 platforms, one possible water feature, 3 alignments, and two mounds. The features indicate that early Hawaiians used the terraces for dryland farming, maximizing water retention from rainfall. Early dates for the other valleys indicate Hawaiians settled the north shore around one thousand years ago.
Kūkaʽiwaʽa landshelf is an invaluable resource rich with cultural and natural resources that deepen our understanding of Hawaiian history. The on-going efforts of the National Park Service help to preserve these features for future generations.