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Archaeologist says discovery confirms pre-contact connections

PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, June 25, 2008) – A French archaeologist has found several stone discs in the Marquesas Islands similar to Hawaii's "ulu maika", which he thinks may confirm there was human travel between the two island groups before the first European discoverers arrived.

The strange discs discovered on the island of Eiao by Michel Charleux, who has a PhD in archeology, are currently being scientifically analyzed to determine what secrets about Polynesia's ancient past they may reveal. Dr. Charleux made three visits to Eiao, the last one having occurred this year. Upon discovering the stone discs, he came up with a theory that has attracted attention in both Papeete as well as Honolulu.

[PIR editor’s note: Eiao is the largest of the extreme northwestern Marquesas Islands.]

The first missionaries and ethnologists from the American Mainland to visit Hawaii later described several games played by the Polynesians during the pre-European period. One such game was "ula maika", a Polynesian version of lawn bowling. Dr. Charleux explains that for this game the players used small lava discs or stones found on the beach measuring four to five centimeters (1-2 inches) in diameter, often convex on both sides, about three centimeters (1-inch) thick at the center with a polished or smooth and an edge of about two centimeters. The players kept the stones oiled and carefully wrapped in tapa cloth. The game of ula maika was played by using the elliptical bowls made from stone. They were bowled to stone marker discs called ula, hence the name ula maika. The distance from the bowling area to the discs was about 18 meters (60 feet).

British explorer Captain James Cook discovered this game in the Sandwich Islands, today's Hawaiian Islands, in 1788, when he found the Polynesians using whetstone for something other than sharpening tools. While ethnographic literature has described this game among the first Hawaiians in detail, nothing has been written about any such game in the pre-European period of the Marquesas Islands, suggesting that no such game existed that far south of Hawaii. So Dr. Charleux was very surprised when he discovered the strange stone discs during visits to Eiao in 1987, 2007 and 2008. Eiao has a reputation for the exceptional quality of its stone—a fine-grained basalt—that was used so much that the island became a center for making stone tools that were used throughout the Eastern Pacific.

As a result, stone adzes from Eiao have been found on neighboring Marquesas Islands (Nuku Hiva, Ua Huka, Hiva Oa, Tahuata and Mohotani) as well as on Tuamotu atolls and Tahiti's sister island of Moorea, 1,600 kilometers (994 miles) to the southwest and even on Magareva, 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) southwest in the Gambier Islands.

Many tests now have to be conducted to determine whether the strange stone discs found on Eiao originally came from Hawaii. If Dr. Charleux's theory is confirmed, it will be further proof of exceptional navigational skills that characterized the ancient Polynesian's ability to leave their islands in sailing canoes and return home after having traveled thousands of miles. The stones are undergoing testing to determine their origin. If the tests prove the stones originally came from Hawaii, this will be another confirmation of the ancient Polynesian voyages between the two island groups. However, if the tests show that the stones are originally from Eiao, this opens up a whole new chapter of study to determine how their existence escaped the notice of the first European discoverers and missionaries and later the ethnologists and archaeologists.


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