Unearthing Moku’ula with Emily Erickson '14

Thursday, November 3, 2011 - 17:43

By Suk-Lin Zhou '14

For Emily Erickson ’14, it wasn’t just the coconut palm trees, sparkling turquoise water, or powdered sugar sand that drew her to Lahaina, Maui, this past summer. It was also the opportunity to help unearth Moku’ula.

Erickson was captivated by the various fields of anthropology in her first year at Mount Holyoke—and, in particular, archaeology. Determined to learn more, she decided that a hands-on experience would give her the best introduction to the field. Her curiosity led her to Lahaina, Maui, where she was an archeological volunteer for three weeks at the excavation site for the Friends of Moku'ula.

Moku'ula was originally an island in the middle of Mokuhinia, a wetland pond. Home to Kamehameha the Great, Kamehameha II, and Kamehameha III, the island served as the political and spiritual center of the Hawaiian kingdom from 1820 to 1845 and as an oasis of calm during the turbulent whaling days in the Pacific. By 1845, Moku’ula had been abandoned after the arrival of foreign powers and a power shift that moved the capital to the more profitable shores of Honolulu. Over time, the island became stagnant marshlands, and in the early twentieth century, the pond was filled in and made into a park. In the last century, downtown Lahaina’s Malu’ulu o Lele Park was always deemed the "most sacred baseball field in America."

Moku’ula is an important part of Hawaiian history, and since 1998, the Friends of Moku’ula have worked to restore the ancient island to its state in the days of Kamehameha III. It is believed that with more understanding of the past, Hawaii can protect its future. Hence, Moku’ula’s motto is: I ka wa mamua ka wa mahope. The future is in the past.

When Erickson and her peers arrived at Lahaina, led by Janet Six, a lecturer in anthropology at the University of Hawaii Maui College, they found the island was about three feet under the baseball field. As an archeological volunteer, Erickson helped define the border and core of the hidden island.

“At the end of the day, I would be covered in red excavation dirt from head to toe, but I didn’t mind. My peers and I swam in the ocean afterwards, and it was a great way to end the day. It was the perfect balance between work and play,” she said.

For Erickson, her summer in Lahaina will be a treasured memory. She found her passion in archeology, discovered ways to utilize knowledge gained from her cultural anthropology and geology classes, uncovered a seal tooth dating back to whaling days, and learned about a new culture. Lahaina is more than just a tourist attraction; it’s a place filled with history and pride in its people.

“Archaeology is like a puzzle. In the end, everything came together and our project was a success. I loved my time spent in Lahaina,” she said.

Erickson plans to continue her interest in archaeology and hopes that one day she can do fieldwork in the Mediterranean.