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Isle of mystery


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POSTED: Friday, September 18, 2009

After living 18 days on a remote island in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Kekuewa Kikiloi is reveling in the “;incredible”; experience and still nursing sore feet from the rugged volcanic terrain.
“;There is definitely a little bit of mystery and suspense”; about Mokumanamana (Necker) island in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, said the University of Hawaii graduate student in anthropology.

Kikiloi and Anan Raymond, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regional archaeologist based in Portland, Ore., were dropped off on Mokumanamana by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research ship Hi'ialakai during a monthlong marine and archaeological expedition.

The ship returned to Honolulu on Sept. 6, but Kikiloi said he is still recovering from the “;feat”; of living in a remote environment with no fresh water or trees about 460 miles northwest of Honolulu. He described the expedition at a news conference yesterday in Honolulu with Raymond speaking from Chicago by teleconference.

The monument has been nominated as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Site.

Kikiloi said he has been to the monument nine times and four times to Mokumanamana, second in the northwest chain after Nihoa. He and Raymond studied 34 heiau (religious structures) on the 46-acre island.

It was the longest archaeological research project ever conducted there. Kikiloi said the island's “;archaeological record as a whole”; was the most significant discovery.

“;There are few cases in Hawaii where you can see an intact cultural landscape”; with nearly 100 percent native plants and animals,”; he said.

The scientists found more than 30 craters from bombings and shrapnel fragments next to heiau sites but are not sure who caused the damage. Nonetheless, Kikiloi said, “;The landscape is un-compromised by human development. It is incredible ... invigorating to go there.”;

Even so, he said, they were “;counting the days”; until the ship picked them up. “;We were in a time warp.”;

“;How did they do it?”; Kikiloi asked, regarding the island's early inhabitants. “;We can barely do it today, and we have all this technology. How did they get water? These people were stronger than we ever thought.”;

He said Mokumanamana has “;some of the most interesting archaeology in Hawaii, if not the Pacific.”;

It was an “;awesome”; experience, both as an anthropology student and native Hawaiian because of the religious significance of the heiau, Kikiloi said. How the people survived and constructed large monuments remains a puzzle, he said. Only three agricultural terraces were found, and the source of the stone for the structures is unknown.

Raymond said the island is a dangerous place to walk around because the 15 million-year-old volcanic rock crumbles easily with the weight of feet or a hand. And thousands of birds cover the island. “;Where you would like to put your hand or foot has seabird chicks. You have to move very slowly. It is extremely rugged. You have to travel on all fours in many locations.”;

The heiau has upright structures along the crest of the island, perhaps oriented to astronomical phenomena, the scientists said. Kikiloi said there are similar upright structures on Hawaii's mountain peaks.

Stone images have been collected from the island, most of which are in the Bishop Museum and some in the British Museum, he said.