Photographing Artifacts from the Nu‘alolo Kai Collection

Posted by on April 11, 2012

Sean taking photos of artifacts in the archaeology lab.

Guest blog by Sean Newsome, Archaeology Collections Intern

The Nu‘alolo Kai site located along the Na Pali Coast of Kaua‘i was home to some of the best preserved artifacts and faunal remains in the Hawaiian Islands. Excavations of the site started in the 1950s with archaeologists from the Bishop Museum.  More recently, archeologists from the University of Hawaii have created a computer generated inventory of many of the artifacts recovered. In total, the Nu‘alolo Kai excavations unearthed more than 12,000 artifacts, ranging from dog tooth pendants and tattooing needles to basalt fishing weights and bone fishhooks. Literally, hundreds of modified bone picks, knives, and fishhooks were recovered. The range of artifacts and material remains recovered is unlike any other archaeological site in Hawaii.

In the archaeology lab we are currently in the process of re-inventorying and cataloging the entire collection of 12,000+ artifacts. This project is aimed towards creating a complete digital and photographic catalog of the Nu‘alolo Kai excavations.  My duties include photographing the artifacts.

Photographing artifacts can be both a treat and a chore. Taking 600 photographs in the matter of three hours can become somewhat repetitious. For those hands-on types in anthropology, however, photographing artifacts from one of the most prolific sites in Hawaii is an amazing experience. Each object has its own story to tell. The photographer nearly gets familiar with the artifacts on a personal level. Constantly handling, un-packing, positioning and taking photographs of the artifacts, one can simply ponder on the stories and experiences of each particular object. When cataloging, I often digress from taking photos into daydreaming of what the object was used for.

My favorite objects to photograph so far have been the numerous bone picks recovered at the site. Thousands of these bone picks have been preserved. In general, they range from roughly 3-10 cm in length and are made of modified fish, dog, and bird bone. The bones have been modified to a sharp point on one end, resembling a rustic hypodermic needle. Each varies slightly from the next. Some are small and straight, while some are long and curved. Archaeologists have proposed these bone picks were used as all purpose tools. They could be used as a type of eating utensil, cutting tool, a needle, etc…

Included below are photographs of several artifacts I found interesting.

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