LAHAINA - Five months after breaking ground with their trowels, archaeologists have unearthed some historical treasures at Moku'ula.
Over the summer, the team excavated an edge of the sacred island that was buried almost 100 years ago, and found rock walls and a spruce-wood pier once used to launch the canoes of Hawaiian royalty. Archaeologist Janet Six said she was pleased to find much of the historic site still intact.
"You can see the water and the pond," she said. "(The pier) probably dates to the 1840s, when the island was occupied by Kamehameha III."
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
University of Hawaii-Maui College students Janet Bostick (left) and Joel Yurkanin use trowels to scrape away fill dirt to expose the island of Moku‘ula on Wednesday morning.
Six is hoping to recruit more students to continue the excavation of the site this fall, through an archaeological field class she will teach at the University of Hawaii-Maui College. Students who don't attend UH-MC also can sign up to work at the site as volunteers by calling the Friends of Moku'ula organization at 661-3659.
"The more people who dig, the faster we can uncover it," Six said.
Dating to a time when spring-fed canals flowed through Lahaina, and much of the area was a wetland, Moku'ula was a man-made island in the center of a pond that served as the cultural and spiritual center of the Hawaiian kingdom.
While the island was home to Hawaiian kings and queens, it was also said that a deity, Mo'o Akua Kihawahine, made her home in the surrounding waters. The site remained occupied - at least by people - until the 1890s.
The ponds and canals were eventually drained by the West Maui sugar plantations, and in 1914, the entire complex, including royal homes, mausoleum, canals, taro patches and fishponds, was buried. Today the site is considered one of the most important in Hawaiian archaeology.
The nonprofit Friends of Moku'ula is seeking to restore the site to the way it appeared in the 1840s.
Six said a major goal of her excavation is to define the original boundaries of the island, so that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can proceed with a separate project to dig out and restore the surrounding pond and wetlands.
She said it was exciting to finally uncover the island's edge.
"From what we've found, it's pretty intact," she said. "They just buried that thing in 1914."
The pier is mentioned in oral histories and stories handed down about the island, including in a story about a queen who had converted to Christianity and launched her canoe from the pier to go to church, only to be tipped over by the angry deity who lived in the pond.
"The pier has a lot of importance," Six said.
She said five spaces are still available in her class on archaeological field methods. It starts Aug. 28, although more slots could be added if there's enough interest. The class will be hands-on, she said.
"No books, no tests, no homework - you just excavate," she said.
Shirley Kaha'i, acting executive director for Friends of Moku'ula, said the program would be an opportunity to discover one of the most important places in Hawaiian history.
"This is a sacred site, so anyone taking that class from Janet will learn a lot," she said. "You can't get any better than Moku'ula."
* Ilima Loomis can be reached at email@example.com.