Over the past century, the purpose of Bishop Museum’s Anthropology Department has been to study the cultural heritage of Hawai‘i and cultures throughout the Pacific. Today, the Anthropology Department is focused primarily on an archaeological research program, using the techniques of this discipline to answer questions about the long-term history of Hawai‘i and the Pacific Islands.
The Anthropology Department has undergone many changes since its establishment early in the history of Bishop Museum. In the late 1960s, Department staff formed a contract archaeology division, which was subsequently reorganized into the Archaeological Research Group (ARG). Later reabsorbed into the Anthropology Department, the collections and research produced by Bishop Museum’s contract archaeology program produced an immense amount of archaeological data from islands throughout the Pacific. Between the late 1960s and the early 2000s, contract archaeological projects were undertaken on seven of the eight primary Hawaiian Islands, as well as Guam and the Marshall Islands.
The Anthropology 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, once managed alongside the Archaeology Collection, are now administered by the Ethnology Department. Bishop Museum’s archaeology program emerged out of ethnographic and archaeological work conducted in the Hawaiian Islands and elsewhere in Polynesia by Dr. Kenneth Emory, a legendary figure in Pacific archaeology.
The first 50 years of archaeology in Hawai‘i and Polynesia focused primarily on surface surveys and the mapping of above-ground architecture. During the 1950s, however, Dr. Emory broke new ground by excavating at Kuli‘ou‘ou Cave, a rock shelter on the Island of O‘ahu. By uncovering this well-preserved buried archaeological deposit, Emory made clear to archaeologists the value of excavating below the surface in Polynesia, including Hawai‘i, rather than simply focusing on surface finds. Along with the remarkable collection of artifacts recovered from Kuli‘ou‘ou Cave, subsequent excavations at sites such as Nu‘alolo Kai, on Kaua‘i, and Pu‘u Ali‘i on Hawai‘i Island created a core collection of Hawaiian artifacts that continues to be the subject of academic research projects, even today.
Our three newest databases include the Ho‘omaka Hou Research Initiative Online Fishhook Database, the Hawaiian Archaeological Survey (HAS) Database, and the Rapa Nui Interactive Radiocarbon Database. The Ho‘omaka Hou Research Initiative 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 data 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.
Research-focused excavations by Bishop Museum archaeologists in other areas of the Pacific, including French Polynesia, Tonga, Samoa, and the Solomon Islands significantly added to our understanding of Pacific migration, settlement, and cultural history and also greatly enlarged the Archaeology Collection. This collection continues to be researched as part of the Ho‘omaka Hou Research Initiative, which is a collection-based research program that was established in 2013.
Researchers currently working in the Anthropology Department specialize in the archaeology of Hawai‘i and Rapa Nui.
In order 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.
Artifact Photography and Image and Document Reproductions
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 Anthropology Department, must be granted in advance. Please refer to the Anthropology Department’s Photography and Reproduction Procedures.