Legend has it that Menehune built the Pihana heiau in one night using stones from the banks of the 'Iao Stream below the sacred site.
The old stories do not say how long ago that happened, but using modern radiocarbon-dating techniques, anthropologist Michael Kolb of Northern Illinois University said he has determined the ancient temple was erected in the early 13th century, at the start of a 500-year span of heiau construction that peaked during times of great political and social change ...
... His study will be published in the August issue of Current Anthropology. [the full text of which will be available online via WATSONLINE]
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... During a 12-year field study, Kolb and his
research team identified and examined 40 heiau, excavating portions of
the sites to collect the charcoal remains of fires the Hawaiians used
to clear vegetation and from ovens and fire pits. While radiocarbon
dating of the samples placed most of the temple construction in the
late 1500s and early 1600s, Kolb said the findings revealed that some
heiau were built much earlier.
He said his data show that 13 temples were built or modified during the 14th century, while seven temples — including Pihana and the much larger Pi'ilanihale in Hana — were constructed as early as the 13th century ...
Kolb said his study disagrees with some of the findings of archaeologist Patrick Kirch of the University of California at Berkeley, who announced in January 2005 that a newer technique of uranium-thorium dating of coral found at heiau sites suggested that many major Hawaiian temples on Maui were built within a 30-year span coinciding with Pi'ilani's rise to power.
Most of the coral samples used in Kirch's research were taken from the surface of heiau and may not reflect the period of original construction, Kolb said, since materials were recycled during subsequent alterations. He also said Kirch studied only seven temples at Kahikinui, Maui, and one on Moloka'i, yielding data that may not be valid for other areas.
In response, Kirch said that his research did not claim that no heiau were built before the late 1500s and 1600s, but rather that the period was a rapid phase of temple construction, which he said is in "good agreement" with Kolb's findings ....
The more elaborate, terraced temples were adorned with altars, oracle towers, offering pits, carved wood or stone images and enclosed wooden structures, [Kolb] said. Thatched-roof buildings were often built nearby as shelters for chiefs, drum houses or oven houses where sacrificial offerings were prepared ....
His study will be published in the August issue of Current Anthropology.