Archaeology

Archaeology

The Archaeology Department houses a diverse collection of archaeological materials recovered from the Hawaiian Islands, as well as over 50 islands and archipelagos throughout Oceania. The Museum’s Ethnology Collection, was once managed alongside the Archaeology Collection, within the Anthropology Department. Now, each collection is administered within its own department. Bishop Museum’s archaeology program emerged from ethnographic and archaeological work conducted in the Hawaiian Islands and elsewhere in Polynesia by numerous eminent scholars in Pacific archaeology.

Our three newest databases include the Ho‘omaka Hou Research Initiative (HHRI) Online Fishhook Database, the Hawaiian Archaeological Survey (HAS) Database, and the Rapa Nui Interactive Radiocarbon Database. The HHRI Online Fishhook Database contains over 4,000 fishhooks from cultural sites in Ka‘u, Hawai‘i Island that were excavated during the 1950s. The HAS Database includes data from all of the archaeological sites investigated in the State of Hawai‘i by Bishop Museum archaeologists. The database merges information from Bishop Museum’s early archaeological surveys with the records of its later contract archaeology projects to provide a comprehensive searchable catalog of over 12,800 archaeological sites. The Rapa Nui Interactive Radiocarbon Database is a spatial database that includes information on over 300 radiocarbon dates from archaeological research on Rapa Nui (Easter Island). All of these databases can be accessed by clicking the links below. Online Resources

Research in the Archaeology Department emphasizes the archaeology and environmental history of Hawai‘i and the broader Pacific. Current initiatives include:

Ho‘omaka Hou Research Initiative (HHRI)

Bishop Museum archaeologists have conducted numerous excavations in Hawai‘i and other areas of the Pacific, such as French Polynesia, Tonga, Samoa, and the Solomon Islands. This work has significantly added to our understanding of Pacific archaeological history, including past migration, settlement, cultural history, and environmental change. These collections continue to be researched as part of the Ho‘omaka Hou Research Initiative (HHRI), a collections-based research program established in 2013. HHRI endeavors to learn more from existing collections through the application of cutting-edge archaeological science methods and advances in archaeological theory.

Long-Term Sustainable Agriculture in Hālawa Valley, Moloka‘i

This NSF-funded collaborative research applies archaeological methods to investigate the long-term sustainability of Hālawa Valley’s agricultural landscapes. Our community-based project combines new analysis of previously excavated Hālawa Valley archaeological collections housed at Bishop Museum alongside new archaeological survey and excavation.

Project Principal Investigators: Jillian A. Swift (Bishop Museum), Patrick V. Kirch (University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa), co-Principal Investigator Noa Lincoln (University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa)

Zooarchaeological Investigations of Human Land Use and Sustainability across the Pacific

The arrival of humans and human-introduced species to island landscapes resulted in significant and lasting transformations to island ecosystems. New zooarchaeological and biomolecular analyses (e.g., stable isotopes, ancient proteins, ancient DNA) of Bishop Museum collections are offering new, high-resolution datasets for investigating past environmental change, human resource management, and long-term sustainability across the Pacific. Recent work applies these cutting-edge archaeological science methods to collections from Mangareva (French Polynesia), Tikopia (Southeast Solomon Islands), and Maui, Moloka‘i, and Hawai‘i Islands.

To request access to the collections for research purposes, please fill out our Collection Access Request Form. For access not related to academic research, please submit email inquiries to the Archaeology Collection Manager, Charmaine Wong.

To request a loan of artifacts or samples, please fill out our Loan Request Form. For loan requests involving destructive analysis, the Destructive Analysis Request Form must also be completed.

Explicit written permission to publish photographs of objects in the Archaeology Collection, as well as images and documents reproduced from paper documents or digital files owned by the Archaeology Department, must be granted in advance. Please refer to the Archaeology Department’s Photography and Reproduction Procedures.

Jillian A. Swift, Ph.D.
Curator of Archaeology
808.848.4144
jillian.swift@bishopmuseum.org

Charmaine Wong, M.A.
Collections Manager
808.843.7609
charmaine@bishopmuseum.org

Lapita pottery sherd,
Bianga Mepala Site, Santa Cruz, Solomon Islands, excavated by P. McCoy, 1978
Pearlshell fishhook,
Hane Site, Ua Huka, Marquesas, excavated by Y. Sinoto, 1965
Repaired gourd fragments,
Kuli‘ou‘ou Rockshelter Site, O‘ahu, excavated by K. Emory, 1950
Bishop Museum’s Archaeology Department has studied the cultural heritage of Hawai‘i and its ancestral cultures throughout the Pacific for over a century. Today, the Archaeology Department houses the world’s largest collection of Hawaiian and Pacific artifacts from archaeological contexts. The Archaeology Collections reflect Bishop Museum’s historic role as one of the most prominent centers of research in the field of Hawaiian and Pacific archaeology. Many of the sites excavated by Bishop Museum archaeologists are fundamental to our understanding of the cultural past of Oceania, including the first firmly-rooted cultural chronologies for the Hawaiian archipelago and wider Pacific region.

The Archaeology Collections are used for research, exhibits, and educational programs. They consist of an estimated two million artifacts and samples from both academic and commercial archaeological projects. The collections contain approximately 70,000 additional related items, including photographs, negatives, a reference library, and archival material that includes field notes, maps, and manuscripts. The collections are divided into two major collections: the Hawaiian Collections and the Pacific Collections. The Hawaiian Collections are the larger of the two, containing archaeological material and data from approximately 550 projects undertaken on seven of the eight primary Hawaiian Islands. The Pacific Collections, which includes smaller collections from Polynesia and the Western Pacific, houses archaeological material from more than 61 islands within 12 island groups. Supplementing these archaeology collections are reference collections containing shell, fauna, wood and seed, historical, and geological reference collections. The department also houses an education collection, which is used by the Archaeology and Science Education departments for outreach projects and public presentations.

There is much more to be learned from studying the materials housed in the Archaeology Collections. In 2013, the Archaeology Department established the Ho‘omaka Hou Research Initiative (HHRI) to foster collaborative collections-based research using cutting-edge scientific techniques. (Ho‘omaka hHou literally means “to begin anew.”) HHRI has generated new international, multidisciplinary research on collections from the Hawaiian Islands, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), New Britain, Tikopia, the Marquesas, and the Society Islands. This research has led to important new insights into the archaeological history of these islands, including updated chronologies for island migrations and settlement, and understanding how past people across the Pacific interacted with and managed their environments.

Be a Part of Our Story

Celebrate the extraordinary history, culture, and environment of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific with a gift to Bishop Museum. As a partner in the Museum’s work, you can help to sustain vital collections, research, and knowledge, and inspire exploration and discovery with a tax-deductible donation.