A Sunset Discovery
Long walks on the beach are one of the highlights of a vacation. From finding peculiar-shaped seashells to glistening rocks, you would never expect to find what these tourists did. Two tourists from Fort Worth, Texas, were walking along the beach in Hawaii watching the sunset in July when something very interesting caught their attention. As the sun went down for the day, a beam revealed something on a nearby rock. Lonnie Watson and Mark Louviere had uncovered something from the past.
Same, But Different
The Pacific Ocean archipelago of Hawaii is today part of the United States. The area is very popular with almost one million people living in Honolulu alone. But despite being part of the same continent, it has a very different history to the mainland of America, 2,400 miles away. It is thought that the first settlers here arrived in around 300 A.D. from the Marquesas Islands. Although there is still a lot unknown about that time period, many clues remain and Lonnie and Mark began to uncover many more secrets.
Very Early Settlers
By the time the Europeans arrived in the 18th century to what is now Hawaii, evidence shows people had already been settled in the area for many years, as far back as 400 A.D. These explorers were from other Polynesian islands and they had set up a society with a rich and unique language and culture. As with most early settlers, these Hawaiian civilizations left their mark. Although Captain James Cook became the first European explorer to land in Hawaii in 1778, evidence shows existence before he got there.
The Gathering Place
It was on the West coast of Oahu that the first evidence of habitation was found, dating back to around 200 A.D. Also known as “The gathering place,” Oahu is the third largest of Hawaiian islands, all 137 of them! It is home to over two-thirds of Hawaii’s population, making it an extremely popular tourist destination. With its many beaches and attractions, such as Waikīkī Beach and the temples memorial park, it is no wonder Lonnie and Mark were among the many who visit the area.
Home to the state capital, Honolulu, Oahu is a frequently visited place, one where Mark Louviere and Lonnie Watson would spend many of their vacations. In July 2016, the two Americans from Texas decided to go back to their favorite destination spot and visited the area of Waianae on Oahu’s western coast. They went for a long walk on the beach to spot the sunset. While hoping to catch a glimpse of the sunset, the pair could never have guessed what they were about to discover…
A Glimpse Of Something Else
Mark and Lonnie wandered the beach, like millions of others do each year, to find the best spot to watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. Since being here before, the pair loved the area and came back often, except they had never witnessed anything unusual before. As they looked out into the ocean, something else, other than the beautiful sun setting down above the sea, caught their eye. There was something rather unusual in the distance.
A Beam Of Light
An Oahu sunset is so amazing it is unlike anywhere else, therefore, it would take something very fascinating to draw your attention elsewhere. Enticing them away from the beautiful scenery was a beam of light, taking them to something unusual. “For some reason, there was a beam of light, just a beam,” Lonnie Watson reported in July 2016, “I just turned my head. I said, ‘look,’ it was just a stroke of luck.” But what was the beam directing them towards?
Carvings In The Rock
As the waves pushed back, the couple had discovered a large figure carved into the soft rock beneath the sand. It seemed as though they had spotted an ancient petroglyph. The pair got up and decided to inspect further. On closer observation, they found no less than ten separate petroglyphs scattered along 60 feet of the beach. Carved in the shape of human figures, each one measured around five feet long. In shock, Lonnie and Mark immediately rang the authorities to tell them about their find.
Petroglyphs can be found all around the world in various locations. They are images that have been carved into rocks and are mostly associated with pre-historic times and people. Animals, humans, or shapes, the carvings tell a story of the time. Despite being spotted around the world, Lonnie and Mark had no record that there were any findings along this stretch of the beach in Oahu. If it was not for the beam of light, these findings may have never been uncovered. But what did they mean? And who left them there?
The Meaning Behind Petroglyphs
These rock carvings are made by pecking directly on the rock surface using a stone chisel and a hammerstone. When the desert varnish on the surface of the rock was chipped off, the lighter rock underneath was exposed, creating the petroglyph. The word originates from the Greek language with Petros meaning “stone” and glyphe meaning “carving.” In the Hawaiian language, petroglyphs are called ki’i pohaku – ki’‘i meaning “image” or “picture” and pohaku meaning “stone.” Petroglyphs can be found on all Hawaiian islands, in more than 100 different locations.
A Humbling Experience
Not long after the tourists made their findings, the State Historic Preservation Division arrived to investigate. Working alongside the U.S. Army, the team located up to 17 petroglyphs on the beach. The humanoid figures were reasonably large, up to five feet in length, and the team believed they were likely carved by native Hawaiians over 400 years ago. “Talk about two guys from Texas being this blessed and this honored,” Watson said in a DLNR press release, “I’m humbled about this whole thing.”
First Official Reporting
Experts and local archaeologists believed these historical remains might have been spotted before as they have long known about petroglyphs carved near Hawaii’s beaches, but this is the first set to have been discovered directly on the beach that has been officially reported to Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). Hawaii News Now reported that after archaeologists working with DLNR investigated Watson and Louviere’s findings, they uncovered that the 17 figures covered nearly 60 percent of the beach!
From Child To Expert
U.S. Army archaeologist Alton Exzabe, a native of Waianae, felt as though the carvings were an important discovery. “What’s interesting is the Army in Hawaii manages several thousand archaeological sites, but this is the first one with petroglyphs directly on the shoreline,” he explained. Exzabe continued, “What’s exciting for me is I grew up coming to this beach and now as an archaeologist working for the Army, helping to manage this site, we discovered these petroglyphs that have never been recorded.”
Before Captain Cook
Exzabe and his colleagues have estimated that the petroglyphs could be four centuries old and were likely made by native Hawaiians living along the Waianae coast. If this is true, it would mean they were created at least 150 years before British explorer Captain James Cook arrived on the island. Therefore, although Captain Cook was the first European to make contact with the Hawaiian islands, this fascinating discovery suggests he was not the first human and gives us an insight into the culture before the European colonization.
Cook In Hawaii
Captain James Cook was a British explorer, navigator, and captain in the Royal Navy. On January 18, 1778, the explorer became the first European to discover the Hawaiian Islands when he sailed past the island of Oahu. Two days later, he landed at Waimea on the island of Kauai and named the island group the “Sandwich Islands,” in honor of John Montague. Cook made a great impression on the Hawaiians and they considered him as god Lono, bringer of light, peace, and plenty. What else do we know about these people?
A Descendant Reports
Glen Kila, a lineal descendant of the aboriginal families to first settle in the area, believes that the discovery of these petroglyphs has a very important role to play in understanding the region’s aboriginal inhabitants. Kila claims to have been unaware of the petroglyphs existence before Lonnie and Mark made their findings. However, he is also adamant that the interpretation of the images and symbols are best done by the locals as they are familiar with its history and culture. “They record our genealogy and religion,” Kila said.
Specific To Waianae
While Glen Kila suggested it is important for only the lineal descendants to interpret the figures, he narrows down his reasoning to the symbols. He stated that the culture at Waianae is very different from that of Maui and other Hawaii islands, therefore suggesting they may have very different interpretations. Therefore concluding that when looking at the symbols in the petroglyphs, it is best to refer to those who originated from Waianae, families referred to as Kupukaaina.
Marchers And Dancers
Interestingly, it was realized that these aren’t the first petroglyphs discovered in Hawaii. In fact, carvings have been spotted around 200 miles away on Hawaii Island. Here there are a number of sites where the carvings have been spotted. One such location is the Puakō Petroglyph Preserve. However, this site is home to a whopping 3,000 images, including representations of paddlers, sails, marchers, dancers, and family groups, as well as dogs, chickens, turtles, and deity symbols, certainly outdoing the 17 images at Waianae.
Puakō Petroglyph Preserve
The Puakō petroglyph preserve is one of the two petroglyph fields north of Kailua-Kona (the other one is the Waikoloa Petroglyph field). In the whole preserve, a total of 3,000 designs have been identified, with 1,200 of them visible for public access. Some of these historical petroglyphs date back to 1200 AD. Although the true meanings of the petroglyphs are unknown, it is generally thought these carvings are records of births and other significant events in the lives of the people who lived on the island of Hawaii long ago.
Early missionaries and anthropologists reported that aboriginal people made the petroglyphs to record travelers’ passages. They also buried the umbilical cords of newly born babies at the site, a tradition meant to ensure long life. Meanwhile, back at Waianae, most of the figures are of humans, with some including fingers. Exzabe explained, “The ones with the fingers, for me, are pretty unique. I believe there are some elsewhere with fingers, but fingers and hands are pretty distinct, as well as the size of them.”
Stay Off The Sand
Due to the jetties being put in, the movement of sand over seasons may have been affected, therefore not exposing the petroglyphs for some time. Finally, they were revealed, however. Within days of the discovery, people watched as the petroglyphs disappeared beneath the sand once more. Exzabe and his colleagues urged observers not to come too close as just touching the carvings could cause irreversible damage. Even though the sand has covered the petroglyphs and there’s no telling when they may become visible again, efforts can be made to preserve them.
Preserving For The Future
Authorities have decided that preserving the area is now their main priority so that future generations can enjoy it. “We can now come up with a plan to further protect and preserve this site,” Exzabe said. As exciting as the findings are, especially for the locals, experts are urging tourists and locals to not touch the carvings. Even scraping sand off the petroglyphs can damage the artifacts, archeologists said. The SHPD plans to work with the Army in order to achieve this.
Viewed, Not Touched
“We’re eager to join the Army in developing a protection and preservation plan for these petroglyphs,” said SHDP administrator Dr. Alan Downer. “They are an important part of Hawaii’s culture, and while sands have covered them again, in time they will reappear. We want to make sure people know that they are fragile and should only be viewed; not touched.” In the meantime, the sand of the Waianae coast has settled over the ancient artworks once more, hidden from the public eye, and no one knows when they might reemerge.