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Ask An Astronomer
Archaeoastronomy - Hawaii, Heiaus, field work

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This page has the questions and answers for issues related to Hawaiian astronomy, archaeoastronomy and field work.

  • 9/4/99 - Elaine Mahoney - "I am trying to get our class to map an local heaiau (Kukaniloko) and to try to prove that certain stones were used to mark the solstices and the rising of Makalii (pleides). I have already gotten permission from the Hawaiian Civic Club of Wahiawa and am meeting with state parks person on friday to seek permisssion to do our investigation. Is it possible to prove these hypotheses in other ways besides being there Dec 21st and June 21st and the beginning and the end of the Makahiki season marked by the pleides??? The CAD instructors from LCC have the surveying equipment to conduct surveys. We want to map and then confirm maps with hand held GPS devices down loaded at Windward Community College. Then is it possible to superimpose path of the sun at the solstices to see if certain rocks were indeed used to mark the farthest positions of the sun??? I feel totally out of my element in bringing these different areas together. Do you know someone who I can consult who has more understanding of these things than I do? I would appreciate any input you can give."

    Ans: [kjm] The heiau idea sounds *wonderful*. Here is what I would propose
    • Survey the site and get exact positions with GPS systems
    • You could plot the alignments with USGS maps.
    • We can use some planetarium type software, such as Voyager to look at the azimuth (position along the horizon, measured from East) for the rising and setting of the Pleiades. For that sort of alignment, we would have to know the approximate age of the site since precession will affect the stellar alignment (but not the solstices). You could be working on this project to make a prediction, and then take a field trip on "the date" to see if it worked. I think this would be very powerful - if the weather is good and it works that would be great, but if it is cloudy then... shows the perseverence of ancient peoples in trying to get an alignment. Then imagine doing it without the GPS and surveying equipment -- from generations of watching the stars!!!
    I have contacted a colleague of mine, Clive Ruggles, who specializes in this area, and he has suggested some software you can download to use from his site. This will compute the expected declination of the sun and moon from a measured azimuth and elevation at a site (useful to see if predicted alignments will work).

Last Updated on December 6, 1999

This page has been visited times since December 1999.
Karen Meech, Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii
meech@ifa.hawaii.edu