Temples of Boom: Ancient Hawaiians Took Fast Road to Statehood

Article excerpt

Around 400 years ago, the residents of two Hawaiian islands built stone temples at a dizzying pace over the course of a generation or two, a new study finds. A construction boom of that kind and magnitude reflected the surprisingly rapid formation of a fledgling political state out of formerly independent populations, investigators say.

Until now, many researchers assumed that chiefs of various communities on the islands of Maul and Molokai had directed construction of temples over a span of approximately 250 years.

New age estimates of the temples indicate that they were built within a much narrower window of time, say Patrick V. Kirch of the University of California, Berkeley and Warren D. Sharp of the Berkeley Geochronology Center. The revised dates come from pieces of sea coral that were placed in special wall compartments during dedications of new temples.

Southeastern Maul contains the remnants of 30 temples that were constructed within a 60-year span, between A.D. 1580 and A.D. 1640, Kirch and Sharp report in the Jan. 7 Science.

The results coincide with the accounts of native Hawaiians, recorded by 19th-century Spanish missionaries, that a single leader assumed control of at least two formerly independent communities on Maul around A.D. 1600. Anthropologists typically treat such accounts as myths, Kirch says.

"I was surprised by the new dates for these temples," he remarks. "This is tangible evidence for the speed with which an archaic state formed in Hawaii."

An archaic state is a political system with several social classes, as well as rulers who claim power on the basis of their special relationships to gods. …