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Bones of Contention

Nearly 20 years ago, the State Historic Preservation Division was created to guard Hawaii's history in the face of rapid development. Today, Hawaiian activists, archaeologists and even developers say it's not doing its job.


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He points out that the hired archaeologist surveyed just 3 percent of the property’s sandy area. “It stands to reason that there are many more in the other 97 percent—this is common sense,” he says. “I believe that there are about 330 sets of remains on the property. But SHPD’s review appears to have been very cursory. This issue isn’t brought up at all.”

Dye worked at the division for six years in the mid-1990s, so it’s incomprehensible to him that SHPD did not ask for more archaeological work at the site before construction began. It should have been a given, he says, since archaeological evidence shows that the property was once the back end of a beach—the kind of environment where early Hawaiians often settled—and, over the past 20 years, more than 300 unmarked graves have been discovered in Kakaako.

He is especially concerned about the unique archaeological site on the Ewa end of the property, in the footprint of the planned condo—a rare find that could not only tell us how Hawaiians died, but lived. “In Kakaako, archaeologists have been looking for at least a quarter-century for an old Hawaiian living surface—the top of sand where people were making their houses, raising their families and digging holes to bury their dead,” Dye says. “We could find out when Hawaiians lived there, what kind of houses they built, what kind of wood they burned, whether they were fishing with nets or building canoes and going out in deeper water.”

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