Exploring Kahoolawe: Saving an ancient Hawaiian sundial

Archaeologists are trying to save an ancient Hawaiian relic on Kahoolawe: a sundial on ground that’s threatening to erode.

At first glance, the unique archaeological feature may look like just another boulder.

“It has these handmade cupules or cups in the stone,” said Mike Nahoopii, executive director, Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission. “It has significant celestial alignments with the rising and setting of the sun.”

kahoolawe sundial

Hawaiians hundreds of years ago may have used it to mark important ceremonies.

Now, it’s in danger, perched on the edge of a ravine that grows larger each day from erosion.

“We’re in a program right now to prevent that stone from sliding into the gulch that has tons of water eroding away past it,” Nahoopii said.

One answer is to move the stone, but it might damage the rock in the process.

Another idea, Nahoopii says, is “knowing that the alignments are not special to a single location, we can use a model of the stone and move it around the island and find a new home for the rock that will also have the same celestial alignments.”

That effort may take a few years, because archaeologists have to make a model of the rock first, then wait for the summer and winter equinoxes to align the correct position.

Yards away in the same location, dozens of petroglyphs about six centuries old are carved into other rocks.

“This is just one of the areas that we have stone etchings. It tells us that somebody spent time out here in this location that was special to them,” Nahoopii said.

It’s another indicator Hawaiians frequented Kahoolawe and a reminder of the island’s link to Hawaii’s ancient past.

kahoolawe petroglyphs

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