• Name: Paul McLerran
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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Investigating a 19th Century Hawaiian Settlement in Utah

Did you know that a community of native Hawaiians settled and established a town in Utah during the late 19th Century? Historical records say this is so, but what remains of the town and other material cultural evidence of their lives?

Dr. Benjamin Pykles of the State University of New York (Suny) at Potsdam will be leading a field school at the site in the summer of 2008. It will take place at the archaeological site of Iosepa (pronounced “yo-say-pah”) in Tooele County, Utah. Iosepa is situated in Skull Valley, approximately 60 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. Its historical and cultural significance is rooted in its origins as a Mormon Polynesian colony in the American West. Following their conversion to Mormonism, the site’s original inhabitants – mostly Hawaiians – left Hawaii and emigrated to far-off Salt Lake City in the 1880s. By 1889, due to discomforts stemming from a breakout of leprosy and various cultural differences, the Polynesians were relocated to the remote land of Skull Valley. Here, under the supervision of a few of their white Mormon “brothers,” they established a town, which they named Iosepa—the Hawaiian word for “Joseph” – in honor of one of the young Mormon missionaries who had labored among them in Hawaii. After twenty-eight years of moderate success at ranching and agricultural production, the town was abandoned in 1917. Most of the town’s inhabitants returned to Hawaii at this time to assist with the construction of the Mormon temple in Laie, Oahu. The town site was sold to a livestock company, which razed the majority of the buildings so the land could be used for grazing cattle. Nothing but a cemetery and a few house foundations remain visible at the site today. Although a significant amount of material evidence survives underground, the great majority of above-ground evidence for the town has been obliterated over the years. Nevertheless, a large number of Polynesians, some of whom are actual descendants of Iosepa’s original residents, actively use the site as a place to remember and commemorate their heritage and ancestors in the present.

The long-term research goals of the Iospea Archaeological Project are:
(1) Protect and preserve the site;
(2) Document and understand cultural persistence and change at the site;
(3) Interpret the site for the general public; and
(4) Provide university students with hands-on archaeological experience and training.


Excavations will take place in Block 10, Lot 1 of the original town site. During Iosepa’s zenith, a Hawaiian named John K. Mahoe owned and lived on this property with his wife and children. A shallow depression on the property marks what is believed to be the cellar of the Mahoe home, and will be the focus of this summer’s excavations. The area surrounding the home site will also be explored in search of outbuildings and related features. In addition to standard archaeological excavation, students participating in this summer’s research will be trained in the use of ground penetrating radar, which will be used to investigate sub-surface features at additional locations within the historic town site. Students will also conduct documentary research as part of the field school, visiting local archives to locate and record information relevant to the archaeological project. Finally, students will have the unique experience of interacting with, and learning from, the descendant communities of Polynesians who revere Iosepa as sacred ground – the place where their ancestors lived, died, and returned to the earth.

Arrival date in Utah is Monday, July 7, 2008. Check out will be Saturday, August 2, 2008.

Along with Suny students, students attending other colleges and universities and interested volunteers are invited to participate, depending upon available space.

If you are interested, please contact Dr. Benjamin Pykles, pyklesbc@potsdam.edu for more information.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Investigating Paleoindian Culture in the Yukon

Volunteers and field school students will have the opportunity this summer to participate in ongoing investigations of the Paleoindian presence in the Yukon Territory. Artifacts discovered at the Little John site, where excavations will be conducted, have been dated to 11,000 B.P. Under the instruction of Dr. David Yesner of the University of Alaska and Norman Easton, Principal Investigator, volunteers will be working along with youth and representatives of the White River First Nation of Beaver Creek, Yukon.

Field school students will receive training in excavation, survey, and laboratory techniques as they apply to Paleoindian sites. Lectures will also be given in lithic analysis, faunal analysis, and geoarchaeology.

If you are interested in this opportunity, see the website for details.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Pylos Archaeological Project

Here is an interesting archaeological excavation excursion into the world of Homer and the ancient Greeks:

Professor Michael Cosmopoulos of the University of Missouri, St. Louis, in conjunction with the Athens Archaeological Society, will be conducting an excavation at the ancient site of Pylos in Greece. If you recall your knowledge of classical Greek literature and history, Pylos was one of the nine famous cities of Nestor as related in Homer's accounts.

The project has two major tasks:

1. Investigate the origins of state formation and social complexity in Mycenaean Greece, and

2. Examine the relationship between the Homeric account and other myths and the actual archaeological evidence.

Thus far, the excavation has uncovered portions of a Mycenaean settlement, including a palace. In the 2008 season, staff, students, other professionals and volunteers will continue the excavation. The project is currently calling for participants. Participants with little or no experience will be trained in archaeological excavation. This project will also include travel to major archaeological sites and museums and lectures on Greek art and culture, archaeology, history and related literature.

If you are interested in this opportunity, go to the website for more information.