The archeological resources at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park cross a range of prehistoric Native Hawaiian and Euro/American historic sites. Spatially, ruins extend from the coast to the upland alpine regions. Radiocarbon data suggest that Hawaiians settled in this region of Puna and Ka'u by the early 15th century. Evidence of their life on this lava landscape can be found in the remnants of house platforms and caves scattered throughout the lowland and upland areas. Enclosures which may have been used to pen livestock, and excavated pits and rock mulch mounds, suggest animal husbandry and widespread farming took place on what today appears to be barren lava. Five centuries ago, however, this area was host to thriving family communities, or ohana, who etched carvings (petroglyphs) into the cooled lava surface which represented their families, traditions and beliefs.
The Native Hawaiians who lived in this region were linked together by trail systems which connected families who lived and fished along the coast, with farmers who lived and worked further inland. The intricate trail systems also provided people with access to prized upland resources such as volcanic glass and basalt used to make their tools, petrel nests where seabirds were caught for food, shrines where they worshiped their gods, plants collected for medicine and dyes, and wood for canoes and houses.
Prehistoric and historic archeological artifacts were collected during archeological excavations and surveys within park boundaries. The earliest archeology project in the park that resulted in collected artifacts and samples is the 1967 excavation of Site HV-911 with Ed Ladd as project leader. Subsequent archeological inventory projects with significant material in the HAVO museum collection come from Poupou-Kauka (1987-88), Wahaula Kailiili (1990), and the Kalapana Historic District Survey (1988-90). In the 1990's, archeological collections came from projects that focused on historic dump sites as well as the emergency salvage of sites under the threat of lava flow inundation.
Archeological artifacts provide valuable information about the people and events that occurred in the park. Over 6,800 archeology artifacts are preserved in the museum collection today.
Did You Know?
Polynesians from distant lands came to the shores of Hawai‘i over a thousand years ago. Sailing on large, double-hulled canoes, they navigated by using the position of the stars, the sun and the moon, by the movement of the waves and by the flight of the birds.