My Day in Archaeology in Hawaii

With the beautiful Hawaiian sun shining and the prospect of visiting amazing pre-contact sites all at my fingertips, I find myself doing the un-sexy but truly important “office archaeology”. As a State archaeologist, I am doing what is very important, review and compliance. I take this seriously. It may not be the most sexy and exciting or appealing thing about doing archaeology here in Hawaii, but with this position comes huge responsibility. So while some of my colleagues may be out in the beautiful Hawaii landscapes, I find myself reading through a 1200 page archaeological inventory survey for an amazing piece of land, highly significant to our native culture here in Hawaii. Being Native Hawaiian myself, I see my position as being an important cog in the wheel of responsible development and progress. So I guess as I participate in the 2013 Day of Archaeology… I may not be doing fieldwork, but I am contributing to the field of archaeology in Hawaii by ensuring that I do my part in protecting my cultural heritage, the heritage of our State our Nation and our World… one report at a time!



Tattooing in Hawaii

Two tattooing comb blanks and three bird bone pick combs from Nu'alolo kai. The last pick is still blackened at the tip with pigment.

Aloha! Greetings from the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii! I am the Archaeology Collections Manager at the museum, which means that I get to take care of artifacts that museum archaeologists have excavated over the years as well as all the photographs and manuscripts that are associated with them.

Today I spent much of the day writing about bird bone picks in the museum’s collection, specifically those from the Nu’alolo kai site on Kauai. The European Association of Archaeologists is meeting in Olso, Norway this September and I am giving a paper about these picks as part of a session on Tattooing in Antiquity. A lot more is known about prehistoric tattooing practices in the Pacific Islands than many other places. We have shell and bone tattooing combs that have been excavated from a number of places. Tattooing is still a very active part of the cultural heritage of Pacific Islanders, with elaborate designs still being tapped into the skin with traditional methods in a number of places, such as Samoa.

The Hawaiian comb and brace system. These were excavated from the Big Island of Hawaii.

But there are many parts of the tattooing toolkit that are still unknown, and quite a variety of needles and raw materials are known to exist. Hawaii has a unique comb and brace system, where multiple combs are attached together with a brace, and then this multi-comb is attached to a handle. Some excavations have also identified simpler combs, sometimes fashioned from a bird bone pick and sometimes being from a single piece of thinned mammal bone.

Investigating these picks and tattooing implements is fascinating. While excavations can turn up new objects to analyze, the museum is also a great place to do research with existing collections!

Update of Day of Archaeology

First off, I would like to thank the people behind the Day or Archaeology. It just goes to show you not only the diversity of archaeology itself, but the archaeologists themselves. I’m sure this event will grow each year.

I’m a little disappointed on the contributions by the archaeologists from the United States, especially those of us from Hawaii where it seems I was the only one logged in to this event. I’m most certainly not the model representative for Hawaiian archaeology, not by a long shot.

Anyway to sum up last Friday, it’s a damn good feeling finishing up a report which is basically the product – what the client and the public pays me and my company for doing. After the fieldwork, many of these sites are no longer there, or no accessibility since you can’t leave and open excavation open indefinitely. You best get the report right as best as you can, because it may be the final say.

Once again a big Mahalo for all your efforts

Aloha nui loa,


From Day of Archaeology’s Bristol Office

As I write this, it’s 9.30 am on Saturday in the UK – which means it’s 10.30 pm on Friday in Hawaii (yes we have contributors in Hawaii). For most of the world, Day of Archaeology is over (although we will continue to publish posts for the next week). I am amazed, really very pleased, by just how many people embraced the idea of Day of Archaeology. Right now we have just under 360 posts published, with the promise of more to come. I’m told the #dayofarch hashtag was used over 900 times on Twitter during the day. I can’t begin to thank everyone who has been involved enough, from my fellow volunteers – Jess, Dan, Lorna, Andy, Stu and Tom – to all our contributors, and those who shared word of the day on facebook, twitter, Google+, academia.edu and other social media. What I hope we’ve created together is the single best resource to answer the question “what do archaeologists do?” Already, thanks to Terry Brock and Leigh Graves Wolf, work is underway turning the project into a schools teaching resource.

My day, unsurprisingly, was mostly spent checking through posts as they came in, occasionally altering them to make sure links to other sites or embedded videos worked, adding categories or tags if appropriate and (not too often actually) catching typos. I have no idea how many posts I checked, but I was consistently busy from 8 am to 6 pm and still working at 10.30 pm. I did grab the time to recruit one final volunteer for an archaeology engagement stand I’m helping to run at the Green Man music festival in Wales next month, but otherwise my day was all Day of Archaeology (how meta).

Had I not been doing this, I would most likely have been on site in Somerset, where I’m currently part of a team of commercial archaeologists excavating the surface of a former island now thoroughly inland, and buried under two metres of marine clay. The site occasionally yields some very nice lithics, such as this:

Flint arrowhead from Somerset

I may have been doing some lab work. I’m a part-time PhD student at Cardiff University, investigating environmental change throughout the period of human occupation in the Outer Hebrides. Mostly, this means I identify and count snail shells from samples taken in different features and layers on archaeological sites. You might think of the reasonably large snails you see in your garden when you read that, but there are many more species of snail that are truly miniscule – as small as 1mm in their largest dimension. Often these snails have very specific tolerances for the environmental conditions they can live in, which is especially informative when you have a few different species with similar tolerances occuring together.You can learn quite a lot about the use of different areas of a site from the snails. Some snail species arrived on the islands later than others, and I’m going to be working to date these arrivals as closely as possible, with the hope that the presence of a particular species in a deposit can become a tool for relative dating, much like archaeologists use particular types of ceramic or lithic form (the picture above, for example, is a classic Neolithic leaf-shaped arrowhead).

The day after Day of Archaeology will be spent (in part at least) reading through posts I didn’t get a chance to see yesterday. I’ve really enjoyed reading about other archaeologists’ working days around the world. I don’t think I’ve learned more about archaeology in a single day before. Day of Archaeology will return next year. Thank you all for making it such a positive experience

Matt Law


Early Morning or Late Night?

Well my Day of Archaeology isn’t over quite yet… I am tasked with the night shift for the DoA (having a very young child means I’m awake at weird times anyway!) and doing it really makes me realise what a global phenomenon archaeology is.

Here I am lying in bed at 04:03BST reading about all the very cool things that people got up to today in loads of countries around the world.

It’s been a great day, waking up all those hours ago to read about people’s days in Australia and now be approving posts from Hawaii! I think what is really clear from all of the posts is that whilst Archaeology might not be the best paid profession in the world, there is boredom, slog, bad weather, and even flat tires or broken equipment and yet everyone still seems to be having fun sometimes cake and most of all enjoying sharing their love of archaeology with their local and global community.

So, well done and thank you World for sharing your Day with us it’s been quite a ride and hopefully everyone feels like they have been part of something important. The archive of peoples days will stay here (who knows we may even print it out!) and archaeologists and anthropologists and historians of the future will dig it up and will know the state of the worldwide archaeological profession on the 29th of July 2011. They will probably also wonder why we were so interested in cats

I can hear the birds starting to sing outside – looks like it’s officially the 30th here in the UK, the posts coming in over the next couple of hours can be handled by the morning shift. Time for a few hours kip and then back at it.. Everyone knows the 30th is International Gin and Tonic Day right?