The Landscape of Agricultural Engineering in Windward Kohala, Hawaii Island

Author(s): Joseph Birkmann; Michael Graves

Year: 2015


The Hawaiian Islands are known for extensive irrigation complexes that covered coastal areas of large valleys and were recognized for their high productivity. Hawaii Island, however, had limited areas devoted to irrigated cultivation. In the study area of windward Kohala with its narrow valleys and moderately sloping ridges, the landscape for irrigated farming presented challenges that our work explores. Between AD 1300 and 1850 dispersed fields were established as much as 5-10 km inland within narrow valleys and on ridge lands. In these areas stream-fed canals, excavated into and through bedrock, extended across valley slopes to water a series of pond field complexes on the adjacent ridges and within impermanent drainages. These linked complexes formed agricultural systems reflecting detailed knowledge of the land's geography and Hawaiians' capabilities to engineer gravity fed irrigation. We describe the strategies involved in transporting water over this variegated topography. These systems also crossed contiguous community boundaries, hence integrating them as social communities and centers of production. By the late 18th century, Hawaiians had created an intricate landscape where streams, ridges, valleys, drainages, slopes, and communities were bound together by systems of cooperation and complementarity in settings of intensive food production.

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Cite this Record

The Landscape of Agricultural Engineering in Windward Kohala, Hawaii Island. Michael Graves, Joseph Birkmann. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 396003)


Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: 111.973; min lat: -52.052 ; max long: -87.715; max lat: 53.331 ;