Heiau Older Then Originally Believed
According to an August 2006 article in the journal Current Anthropology entitled
"The Origins of Monumental Architecture in Ancient Hawaii",
Michael Kolb of Northern Illinois University,
radiocarbon testing has challenged our understanding of
ancient Hawaiian social complexity.
Changes in temple architecture over time reveal a shift from
ancestral to sacrificial worship.
The development of monumental architecture and social complexity on
the Hawaiian island of Maui occurred over a span of at least 500 years,
according to the most detailed study to date on the antiquity of the
islandís extensive temple system, forthcoming in Current Anthropology.
The findings challenge previous conceptions of ancient Hawaiian
civilization by identifying cycles of temple construction that coincide
with politically charged periods of warfare and island consolidation.
Loaloa War Temple on Maui
© Michael Kolb
"Because the islands are relatively isolated from the rest of the world,
the development of monumental architecture and complex society in Hawaii
is of keen interest to archaeologists," writes Michael Kolb (Northern
Illinois University), who spent more than a decade locating and excavating
temple sites. "In many ways, Maui represents an excellent test case for
state development. Its monumental architecture is directly linked to
economic, political, and ritual development, not unlike the most famous
early civilizations, such as the Maya or ancient Eqyptians."
Kolb conducted radiocarbon-dating analyses on samples from forty ruins
on the island of Maui, including several newly discovered temples. The
radiocarbon dates indicate the earliest temples were built in the 13th
century, with construction continuing into the early 19th century.
Prior research had indicated that Mauiís temples, known as heiau,
were built within a span of decades near the turn of the 17th century.
Kolbís study also identifies an important shift in temple construction
from open-air temples used for ancestral worship to enclosed, more
elaborate temples used for sacrificial offerings to war gods. Large
temples often covered more area than a football field and stood 40 feet
"The Hawaiian civilization lacked ceramics, which is typically why
radiocarbon dating is relied upon by scientists," says Kolb. "Before
a temple was built, the land would be set ablaze to clear it from vegetation,
leaving behind charcoal remains. We also were able to gather samples
for dating from the sites of ancient ovens and bonfires."
The ancient people of Maui stacked lava rocks to form the foundation
of the platform temples, often built on the faces of cliffs or other
high points on the island. The more elaborate, terraced temples were
adorned with altars, oracle towers, offering pits, and god or ancestral
images carved from wood or stone.
"Oftentimes, in a show of economic might, a conquering chief would
remodel, build additions to, and rededicate a rivalís temples," explains
Kolb. "Many of the early structures were modified or new ones were built
with enclosures on top. Access was limited to reward loyal constituents,
and sacrificial worship became more of a focus."
Heiau in Hawaii
Petroglyphs in Hawaii
Islands of Hawaii
Hawaii for Visitors
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