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What Artifacts Were Found at the Kihei Library During the 1990s Archeological Survey?



The Kihei Public Library was built in the mid 1990s and first opened to the general public on April 24, 1996. Prior to South Maui’s library being built, a full-scale environmental assessment was conducted in 1993 to closely examine the population needs, soil quality, local flora and fauna, flood and tsunami hazards, and archeological findings.  If interested, you can review the full 195-page Kihei Public Library Final Environmental Assessment.


Maui Walking Tours LLC is most interested in the ancient Hawaiian fishing shrine or ko’a that is preserved today toward the northern mauka side of the library parking lot. Countless visitors to the library pass the shrine without even noticing it, mistaking it for simple landscaping.


The fishing shrine is referenced in the original archaeological survey and there is even an educational placard that talks about the Ko’a i Kama’ole that fronts the ruins, but unfortunately the sign is too weathered to read. Through our research and talks with local historians and authors, Maui Walking Tours LLC was told that some cultural artifacts discovered during the archeological assessment of the site in the mid 1990s used to be on display in the Library when it first opened. We reached out to the head librarian and after a month or two of talks were able to assess the original artifacts which are now in storage at the Kihei library.  We are excited to share what we learned!


What Do We Know About the History of the Land Where The Kihei Library Sits:


Archaeologists found that this site was part of a larger area that was occupied on and off by Hawaiian people during the middle to late pre-Contact Period-roughly from the late 1200's through the late 1700's.


They based these findings on three things: radio carbon dating, the presence of traditional cultural material (pre-Contact), and the absence of historical artifacts (post-Contact). The beginning of the Contact Period is marked by Captain Cook's arrival in the Hawaiian Islands in 1778.


This land was used by the Hawaiian people for about 500 years as a temporary dwelling place and possibly a burial place, as well as a place of worship. Fishermen built a fishing shrine called a ko'a which has been preserved on the property and can be seen today adjacent to the parking lot. 


What Artifacts Are In Storage at the Kihei Library from the Original Land Survey in 1993?


The list below details and visually displays the actual cultural artifacts that are preserved at the Kihei Library.  Maui Walking Tours LLC was lucky enough to see these artifacts first hand on March 23, 2024 through a private meeting with the librarian staff. The head librarian has asked that other members of the public refrain from asking to see the artifacts, as they are normally preserved in backroom storage. 


Drilled Shells - A collection of shells with hand-drilled holes were found.  Some shells were used for necklaces and jewelry while others, such as cowry shells were believed to be used for fishing lures, in particular octopus lures.  Maui Walking Tours LLC found it very interesting that a Hawaiian octopus lure was found on the grounds, considering an octopus is depicted in the Maui County Ahupua’a sign for the region of Kama’ole, which is the ahuapua’a that the Kihei Library is located within. 


In our talks with Vernon Kalanikau, project coordinator and designer of the Maui Nui Ahupua’a Sign Project (and current Maui County Cultural Advisor to the Mayor’s Office), he mentioned that the animals and plants depicted in each ahupua’a sign represent prominent resources and species found in that particular region centuries ago.  The fact that an octopus (tako) is shown on the Kama’ole sign and also an octopus lure was found in the archaeological survey seems to add up! Pretty cool!




Bone Fishhooks - We know that the South Maui coastline was a prime location for fishing centuries ago.  The natural wetlands, aquifers, and springs that were present along the southern coastline caused coastal shorelines to have different salinity levels which resulted in an excess growth of seaweed and other ocean plants.  This excess level of seaweed drew in small fish which then drew in larger fish.  A series of Hawaiian fishponds were constructed along the Kihei coastline, some of which are still seen today.


Hawaiian fishhooks were made of bone, wood, and ivory. Some were made in one piece. Some (called composite hooks) were made in two pieces, like the ones depicted in the picture below. The two fishhook pieces were then bound together with fibers.  The fishing hook shanks found at the library site are from two piece hooks. 



Volcanic Glass Flakes - When lava cools quickly it can form a glass-like material.  The volcanic glass can then be chipped and shaped to form sharp edges that can be used for knives, tools, and other instruments. 



Basalt Adze & Shell Adze - An adze somewhat resembles an axe (they even sound similar!).  Fragments of a basalt adze and shell adze were found on the library grounds.  These larger hand tools would have been used to chip into wood and possibly help shape the fishing canoes used by fisherman along the southern coastline. 



Coral Files - As we all know, some corals can be very coarse, like sandpaper. Files made of natural coral “sandpaper” were used in the production of many items such as fishhooks, wooden bowls, canoes, and household items (possibly even surfboards).  



Echinoid Spine Files - Echinoids are marine animals with hard shells and spines, most commonly sea urchins. The echinoid spines have a rough surface and worked perfectly as smoothing and cutting tools hundreds of years ago. It is believed these echinoid files were great for manufacturing bone fishhooks. Fragments of these files were found on the Kihei library grounds. 



Next time you are at the Kihei Library, we encourage you to take a little time to walk over to the Kama’ole Fishing Shrine and reflect on the history and lifestyle of the early Hawaiians that frequented this same land 500+ years ago!  And when you are done reflecting, head over to our tours page and book our free Kihei Walking Tour where you can learn more about the interesting history of South Maui!


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