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Hawaiian Adz Quarry on Mauna Kea Studied
by Helen Altonn
Honolulu Star Bulletin
July 31, 1975

Six heavily bundled archaeologists are making some exciting discoveries in the first investigation ever conducted of the Hawaiian adz quarry 12,400 feet up on Mauna Kea. It is the largest adz quarry in Polynesia and probably in the world.

Patrick McCoy, Bishop Museum archaeologist, received a $38,000 National Science Foundation grant for the three-month expedition which began July 1.

He described the project in an interview before leaving for Mauna Kea. Yoshiko Sinoto, head of the museum’s anthropology department, reported on the work after a recent visit to the quarry site.

"It's so cold they're working in thick coats — just like people in the Antarctic," Sinoto said.

"I don't know what the Hawaiians wore when they went there." Sinoto commented. He speculated that perhaps they wrapped tapa cloth around themselves or wore ti-leaf raincoats.

The quarry, where prehistoric Hawaiians manufactured stone tools, was declared a national historic landmark in 1969.

McCoy hopes to learn more about Hawaiian adz manufacturing techniques — “something we know absolutely nothing about” — as well as something of how the Hawaiians lived on Mauna Kea.

He said the only information about the quarry is contained in four pages of notes by Kenneth Emory, senior museum archaeologist, and a few notes by himself and Richard Gould, University of Hawaii archaeologist.

Gould, a consultant on the NSF research project, plans experiments on the Manoa Campus to replicate the Mauna Kea adzes. McCoy said that by making replicas of the tools, “we can understand more clearly the stages and techniques involved in manufacturing them.”

Emory found 14 to 15 workshops over a distance of two miles when he studied the summit region in 1937.

“I believe these were the largest workshops in the world for making of stone tools,” he said.

He found a cave with each workshop which he believed served as a refuge during storms and intensely cold winds. He believed the adzmakers did their work during the summer, making their homes below the forest line at 10,000 feet and going up to the workshops daily.

McCoy’s team is surveying the quarry to determine the boundaries and has found the area to be much bigger than was thought, Sinoto said. He said a 3 x 3-mile area will have to be protected to preserve the quarry as a landmark.

The archaeologists are mapping the sites in detail and sampling the huge mounds of waste flakes — “garbage residue of what’s left after making a preform or blank (of an adz),” McCoy said.

Sinoto said the Hawaiians knew which basalt was the best for adzes and they selected those areas, then made shelter caves. Each site also had a religious shrine.

McCoy said the shrines resemble those found by Emory in Haleakala Crater and on Necker island — a series of upright slabs of stones in a rectangular pattern.

Sinoto said there are surprising number of clusters throughout the quarry, each one containing a quarry area, a shelter area and a shrine. He said perhaps the clusters were owned by different people who went back and forth all the time. He saw similar clusters on Pitcairn, noting that that entire island is a quarry site.

Sinoto said "the amount of adze flakes is tremendous" on Mauna Kea.

"They quarried big basalt chunks which were rough-cut at the quarry site and finished in the shelter. All the adz flakes are small close to the shelters," he said.

“The basalt quality must have been very good. Otherwise, why such a long hike — climbing to a cold place? You can go up by jeep now but they used to walk up from Hilo or Kamuela.”

He said perhaps the Hawaiians went there to make adzes for trade, and studies of basalt and of adzes may indicate that some adzes on Oahu were made of basalt from Mauna Kea.

"It must have been a real adz-making center for trade," he said.

Sinoto said the toolmakers probably took preserved food with them when they went up to the workshops, or supplies were sent to them. Opihi shells were found in the shelters.

“They probably took live ones up there,” he said.

He said food is delivered twice a week to McCoy’s campsite, at about the 9,000-foot level.

“Sometimes they find ice on top of the water containers, and their tents blew down several times,” he said.

“Otherwise, there are no major problems and they are making progress that will contribute significantly to Hawaiian lithic techniques. This could be the most unique adz quarry in the world.”

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