Inventorying the Micronesian Archaeology Collections

photo-1 Guest blog by Helen Alderson, visiting researcher

I am currently here in the lab working on a project that focuses on the Micronesian archaeological collections at Bishop Museum. Micronesia is one of three commonly-used terms to divide Oceania geographically, the others being Polynesia and Melanesia. While Micronesia covers a stretch of ocean greater than the size of the continental U.S., it does not receive as much archaeological attention as Polynesia and Melanesia. Despite this, Micronesia is well-known within archaeological circles for its impressive monumental structures, such as the vast ceremonial, administrative and mortuary complexes Nan Madol on Pohnpei and Lelu on Kosrae, the sculptured hills of Babeldaob in Palau, and the stone columns left from the latte buildings of the Marianas. It also is home to the often huge rai (colloquially known as “stone money”) on Yap, which capture the imagination as massive exchange valuables.

While monumentality is both inspiring and can tell us much about the past, collections of Micronesian archaeological artifacts are equally as valuable. Bishop Museum holds thousands of Micronesian items. Currently, with the guidance of Dr. Mara Mulrooney, I am creating an inventory to make these items more accessible for future research. I have inventoried 2200 artifacts so far, most of which are shell adzes, ornaments, fishhooks and fishhook blanks from Nukuoro, a Polynesian outlier in Micronesia, currently located within the Federated States of Micronesia.

Material culture from Nukuoro is intrinsically interesting, as although it is positioned within our current geographic borders of Micronesia, it was populated by people of Polynesian descent in ancient times. As such, the artifacts that I have been inventorying look Polynesian, with some subtle differences. The range of items will make great future projects for students or scholars interested in deconstructing concepts of both geographic and cultural boundaries, and how they are reflected in material culture.

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Hooked on Scanning

photo-2-3 Guest blog by Avalon Coley, Archaeology Collections Intern

For the past several weeks during my internship at Bishop Museum, one of my favorite tasks has been scanning fishhooks from the H1 site at South Point (Ka Lae). Excavated between 1953 to 1959 by Dr. Yosihiko Sinoto and his colleagues, these fishhooks have been of interest to archaeologists for many years. I am honored to do my part in creating a digital database which will aid researchers both near and far in better understanding these unique artifacts. Each individual hook or hook fragment gets scanned four times – one low and one high resolution scan of each side. Using Photoshop, I lightly enhance the high res scans. These images will greatly help researchers from the University of Auckland with a stylistic re-analysis that they have planned, the first in many decades.

I find that each hook has its own personality. Some are of bone while others are carved from spectacular pearl shell. Some are double-barbed, while others have a single point. Many of the pieces are either the shank or point of a two-piece fishhook, contrasting with the whole single-piece fishhooks. Frequently, I come across fishhook blanks, which consist of worked material that never became finished products. A spectrum of colors, sizes, and differing attention to detail sets each piece apart from the one previous.

The tool used in manufacturing the many fishhooks in the Museum’s collections is known as a pump drill, consisting of two crossing wooden sticks held together with cordage and weighted with a stone above a pointed stone tip. Wrapping the cordage around the vertical piece of wood, the worker would push down on the horizontal stick, which would cause the vertical piece and therefore the pointed tip to rotate and drill into the blank material. The perforations would serve as the inner, rounded part of the hook-to-be, with the outer material shaped until it was perfect.

It has been incredible being a part of this important effort. I am amazed at how much I have learned in these past few weeks, and knowing how much more can be gleaned from these artifacts is incredible. Although they no longer catch fish, they have certainly captured my imagination.

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Scan, Scan, Scan!

photo-1 Guest blog by Kaile Luga, Archaeology Collections Intern

Last week, I began my internship at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum’s Anthropology Department. When I initially heard the Anthropology Department was accepting applications for its summer internship program, I thought it would be such an awesome opportunity to gain more experience in the lab. Most of my anthropology experience thus far has been classroom-based, and I was very interested in expanding my knowledge base – specifically in the area of archaeological laboratory techniques.

Over the past few weeks, I have participated in a number of different activities. I have had the chance to help re-house artifacts, sort through midden, and had the opportunity to handle some glass negatives over in the archives. The activity that stood out to me the most, though, was the one I found most challenging – scanning project manuscripts.

I have spent the bulk of my afternoon sessions scanning manuscripts from fieldwork conducted by the B. P. Bishop Museum’s Anthropology Department across the Hawaiian archipelago. It was challenging for me personally because it is a more solitary job, and I’m more of a social person who loves talking with the other interns and employees. For me, scanning was a little lonely and boring – and I found myself almost always in serious need of a caffeine boost to help me push through. Although I do not exactly enjoy scanning, I was more than willing to do it because I saw the importance behind it.

The department is working to digitize these documents so we can upload an itemized manuscript inventory to the Hawaiian Archaeological Survey (HAS) database, in conjunction with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA). The inventory will also be incorporated into OHA’s Papakilo Database in the future. As a future researcher, I understand the importance of responsible research and data being easily accessible and available to all. Once uploaded onto the HAS database, the manuscripts inventory, and the bounty of information contained in their pages, will be more easily accessible to those interested. With that knowledge, I know that the many hours I spent scanning manuscripts were well worth it. It has been a great privilege to have been involved in this scanning endeavor!

A hui hou!

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The Archaeology of Archaeology

Marlboro-1 Guest blog by Rebecca Roelands-Keim, Archaeology Collections Intern

I will never forget the name Wai‘ahukini. Not only because it is an incredibly important archaeological site on the big Island of Hawai’i that could possibly re-write the chronology of Hawaiian settlement, but also because I wrote the name approximately 1000 times in the last two days.

My colleagues and I have had the very great fortune to assist the Bishop Museum in rehousing countless ‘files’ excavated from the site. These files, which were made of coral or sea urchin spine, would have been used to shape and sharpen fish hooks into the beautiful artifacts we have today. As such, the tools to make the objects are just as important as the fishhooks themselves. Likewise, the identification labels that accompanied the files were of almost equal interest to us as we dutifully separated each file into its own bag with accompanying identification information.

Archaeologists (very wisely) use multiple cross-check methods when in the field in order to ensure that artifacts are labeled clearly and concisely. 60 years ago, the wonderful team from the Bishop Museum that excavated the Wai‘ahukini site crafted a superbly detailed field catalogue (including a hand drawn sketch of a vast majority of the individual artifacts) and in addition, artifacts were placed into labeled containers. 60 years ago it just so happened that the archaeologists working on the Wai’ahukini site had a ready-made supply of containers…cigarette packets.

Marlboro-2 Cigarette packets were a handy, readily available container in which multiple small artifacts could be placed. Additionally, the cardboard exterior made writing relevant details on the outside quick and easy. Once the files had been transported to the Museum, the relevant information was simply cut off of the box and placed with them.

60 years later, here we are re-housing the artifacts and using the same information written there as on the day of discovery. The labels themselves are fascinating and in addition to cigarette packets, a Vicks VapoRub one was also identified. It may seem like a small quirk, but the use of these packets highlights the ingenuity and inventiveness of archaeologists and gives a distinctly personal touch to the unique human beings that first worked on this magnificent site 60 years ago.

Mahalo niu loa to Mara and all of the team!

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