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.
THIS SUMMER’S PROJECT
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, firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.