Diggers find burial pit
An archaeologist expects to find hundreds of remains under the Kakaako project site
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Still more native Hawaiian remains have been found at the site of General Growth Properties' planned mixed-use project in Kakaako -- but this time, the setting makes archaeologists think there could be many more still undiscovered.
The state Historic Preservation Division has now counted 53 sets of iwi at the site. But it was the nature of the latest finds -- in what appears to be a large burial pit -- that concerns the state agency, which has asked General Growth for further archaeological excavation.
The agency already has asked General Growth to redesign its $100 million project in order to preserve in place 30 sets of iwi discovered earlier.
Meanwhile, Thomas Dye, president of the Society for Hawaiian Archaeology, estimates that there are actually hundreds more remains to be unearthed at the site, which he considers a rare archaeological find.
General Growth is building a retail center anchored by a 67,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market, in addition to a 17-story residential tower and parking garage on the 6-acre construction site bound by Auahi, Kamakee and Queen streets.
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The state has asked General Growth Properties to dig deeper around the site beneath the planned Whole Foods Market at Ward after the discovery of still more native Hawaiian remains.
The latest count of iwi, or Hawaiian burials, at the Ward Village site, has now grown to 53, according to Melanie Chinen, administrator of the state Historic Preservation Division.
But it is not the current count that has prompted the state division to request further study of the construction site. It is the setting of the most recent discoveries, which a staff archaeologist says could contain multiple burials. And another archeologist says the total could be in the hundreds.
In a letter to General Growth last week, the division describes another discovery of a burial during a June 5 visit to the Diamond Head side of the construction site, where a 67,000-square-foot Whole Foods store is planned.
Staff archaeologist Jenny Pickett also believes that one of the sites in that vicinity -- referred to as "site 49" -- could contain multiple burials due to the size of the burial pit there.
Since 2004, General Growth has had plans for a mixed-use retail center with a parking garage and a 17-story rental residential tower on a 6-acre site bounded by Auahi, Kamakee and Queen streets.
Just three days before the June 28 letter, the historic division had asked General Growth to consider redesigning its project in order to preserve in place 30 sets of remains found earlier.
The majority of those remains, on the Ewa side of the construction site, near the Pier 1 Imports store, were beneath the structural core of the planned residential tower.
General Growth senior vice president Dwight Yoshimura has said that the company is reviewing the state's redesign request. It had previously told the agency that redesign of the $100 million project was impractical.
The state's latest request calls for an additional excavation in the area planned for the Whole Foods store, on the Diamond Head side of the construction site fronting Auahi Street.
Hal Hammatt of Cultural Surveys Hawaii, which is conducting the archeological study for General Growth, has requested permission to expand testing of the unexcavated sections of the Whole Foods site to determine the extent of the burials.
General Growth representatives could not be reached for comment on the latest request by press time.
But the additional discoveries come as no surprise to Thomas Dye, president of the Society for Hawaiian Archaeology.
He says at 53, the total count is just a sixth of about 335 that he estimates are at the Ward Village site.
Dye said any professional archaeologist would have made that prediction, given the sample size and type of soil, when the first 11 sets were originally discovered. And it was clear from the beginning that further investigation would have been appropriate for the site, he said.
The Oahu Island Burial Council, based on the initial information it was given, approved a plan last fall to remove and rebury the 11 sets of remains at the site. Several members said they might have voted differently if they had known of the additional burials.
"From a professional archaeologist's point of view," said Dye, "it never made sense to me how the decision could be made with no recognition that there are likely to be hundreds of burials at the site."
Dye, who now has his own company, served six years as the state's Oahu archaeologist during the 1990s.
He reviewed the initial survey of the site and said the state should go one step further, requiring General Growth to excavate every piece of the property "underlain by sand" that is going to be developed.
Burials discovered within old beach sands are likely to be native Hawaiian burials.
"Only then will the likely impact of the proposed development on traditional Hawaiian burials be known," he said.
Besides hundreds of iwi, Dye said, the Ward Village site contains a unique archaeological site, much of which would be destroyed by development.
"Archaeologists have searched for decades to find an undisturbed deposit like this in Kakaako," he said.