The Adze Quarries of Kaluako‘i
By Marshall Weisler, Archaeologist
If there was ever a perfect name for a piece of land, then surely Kaluako‘i is it. The name means “the adze pit” and the 50,000 acres encompassing this leeward region of west Molokai contains more stone adze quarries than the rest of the Hawaiian Islands combined. The rolling hills and slopes fronted by the rocky coastlines are dominated by the nearly 1,400 foot high, 1.7 million years old Maunaloa volcano.
Why is Kaluako‘i important? Well, imagine life without your mobile phone. Most people would be at a loss without this essential modern “tool.” Hundreds of years ago, stone adzes were the most common tools in ancient times. Used for woodworking from cutting down trees for canoe hulls in the mauka forests, to fashioning house posts, spears, and wooden bowls, stone adzes were made from fine-grained rock that once shaped, ground, and polished, held a superior cutting edge. Every household in ancient times had adzes of different sizes and shapes.
Anywhere you walk, most of the rocks lying along the ground have crystals in them, mostly green, black, and clear, and plenty of pukas — the “fossilised” evidence from where gasses escaped when the rock was molten. Rocks with plenty of pukas are great for imu stones, of course, but terrible for making adzes.
So, with its limited distribution, fine-grained rock was essential for adze making and was the gold of ancient times.
The next time you drive along Maunaloa Highway to the west end, a mile past the turn for Kaluako‘i Road, pull out safely along the right side of the road. Looking to the northwest towards ‘Ilio Point, you’ll see a line of pu‘u from Napu‘ukulua, about 1.5 miles inland from Papohaku Beach, to Make Horse at the beach south of Kawakiu Nui, to Kahenawai near ‘Ilio Point. These pu‘u mark the northwest rift zone, where 100,000 years ago lava, under extreme pressure, gushed onto the surface, sometimes in spectacular fashion, forming fountains cooling into pu‘u.
Because lava cooled quickly after contact with air at many Kaluako‘i pu‘u, the rock had little time for crystals to grow. Therefore, the rock is fine-grained and perfect for adze making. Looking north is the major adze quarry at Ka‘eo less than a half-mile from the north coast, and two miles to the right of it on the horizon is Ka‘a quarry. Farther along there is a major quarry inland of Mo‘omomi. If you look southwest, towards the summit of Maunaloa, there are several adze quarries there.
Tools made from Maunaloa quarry rock are found in ancient house sites across the summit and along the west coast. The rock from the large quarry inland from Mo‘omomi has the farthest distribution from ‘Ilio Point to Pu‘u Kapele to Kawela. These distributions define ancient communities.
In conclusion, what’s in a name? In the example of Kaluako‘i – it turns out plenty.
Mahalo to the Australian Research Council, Molokai Ranch, and the Molokai Land Trust for supporting the research over many years.