“I believe these were the largest workshops in the world for making of stone tools.” (Kenneth Emory)
“Dr Wm Hillebrand ascended to the summit of Mauna Kea … About 1,500 feet below the top, on the side of the mountain seldom visited by either foreigners or natives, they discovered an ancient manufactory of stone implements.”
“It consisted of a cave, in front of which was a pile of stone chips 25-feet high, which had evidently accumulated from the manufacture of stone adzes, maika balls, etc, etc, which lay scattered about in an unfinished state.”
“On reaching Mr Lyons’ residence, the discovery soon became noised abroad among the natives, who flocked to the mission premises to learn the truth of the report.”
“On inquiry among them, no person appears to ever to have heard of the existence of the manufactory, – even the oldest natives were ignorant of it. … (Hillebrand later learned) that that an old native … in his younger days had heard the place spoken of by his fathers, but nothing definite can be earned regarding it.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, October 23, 1862)
The quarry is an area of roughly 7 ½-square miles on the south slope of Mauna Kea. The main activity was concentrated in a zone that is 1-to-1 ½ miles wide between the 11,000 and 12,400 ft. elevation.
The landscape is dotted with numerous cinder cones, the principal one of which in the quarry area is Puʻu Koʻokoʻolau. The upper slopes of Mauna Kea have been described as a stony alpine desert. There is little vegetation and the ground surface has the appearance of a desert pavement.
The modern climate is both dry and cold. It is sufficiently cold that glacial features, such as patterned ground, are actively maintained. Evidence of formerly colder conditions can be seen in the summit region in the form of glacially scoured bedrock and surficial glacial drift deposits. (McCoy)
“Visiting this region in the summer of 1937, we located seven caves, and seven shelters formed by the overhanging of bluffs and protected from the wind by stone walls erected by the ancient Hawaiians.”
“The chips and unfinished adzes at this site cover an area of roughly fifty feet long by twenty feet broad, and the thickest part of the pile rises approximately ten feet above the sloping ground. Some of the other piles are nearly as large.” (Emory, 1937)
“Nowhere else in Polynesia are there such accumulations of chips and rejects. … Several hundred nearly finished adzes ranging from two to twelve inches in length, and a few chisels, lay on the pile of chips at Keanakakoʻi site.”
“The ordinary discoidal hammer-stones, which we saw scattered about, were not more numerous than spherical stones of the same vesicular basalt, flattened slightly on one side. These spherical stones puzzled us until we discovered that a number of the rejected adzes had been smoothed and shaped by pecking so as to be gripped comfortably in the hand.”
“We figured that these shaped rejects must have been gripped in the left hand like a stone chisel, one end placed on a stone block to be chipped, and the other end struck a smart blow with the flat face of the spherical stone mallet held in the right hand.” (Emory)
“Such a method has not before been described but no other has been suggested which would explain these two tools certainly employed in the manufacture of the adzes. The use of the mallet-stone and of the chisel-stone, would be effective in the first rough chipping of a large block, but the discoidal hammer-stone would be necessary for the final chipping.”
“Large slabs and blocks of stone had been carried to the workshops from the quarries nearby. The quarries are simply places along the ledges of hard rock where quantities of slabs have been broken off by the scraping of the glacier which once covered Mauna Kea and by the freezing of water penetrating into cracks.”
“There is evidence that the Hawaiians broke some of the stone from the bluffs themselves but generally they simply broke loose slabs into pieces to be carried to the workshops.”
“Acres of ground are strewn with the dark blue, freshly broken rock contrasting with the dull grown surface of the weathered stone. In many places, the rock of the ledges is quite reddish, owing to the oxidation of its iron minerals, and this has led to the supposition that the Hawaiian built fires against the bluffs to split off the stone.”
“The floors of the caves and shelters contain grass-padding and some fragments of seashells, but no accumulation of shells or bones such as would indicate use as living quarters.”
“On calm nights the temperature drops well below freezing. On rainy and windy nights, water drips through the roofs of the caves. During the winter months, snow frequently covers the ground, and the bitterly cold winds sweeping over the workshops would be unendurable to the workers.” (Emory)
Most stages of adze manufacture (kakoʻi – to make adzes; adze maker) were carried out at these sites and that adze preforms or nearly finished but unpolished adzes were the actual products removed from the quarries. (Withrow)
The quantity of food that could be transported from the coast would have effectively limited the length of stay, unless, of course, there were other people who formed task groups responsible for supplying the craftsmen and also, for carrying down selected preforms for finishing by grinding and polishing.
The combination of these factors with archaeological reasoning based on excavated evidence suggests seasons no shorter than two to three weeks. (McCoy)
An adze is an ancient type of edge tool dating back to the Stone Age. Similar to an axe in shape, it was used for cutting, smoothing, and carving wood and other materials.
In the Hawaiian Islands, an adze blade was generally made out of basalt, a common volcanic rock formed by the rapid cooling of lava. Basalt was favored for tool making because of its hardness and ability to hold an edge. (NPS)
“The ax (adze) of the Hawaiians was of stone. The art of making it was handed down from remote ages. Ax-makers were a greatly esteemed class in Hawaii nei. Through their craft was obtained the means of felling trees and of cutting and hewing all kinds of timber used in every sort of wood-work.” (Malo)
The upper and lower sides of the adze blade were then tapered using a grinding stone sprinkled with sand and water. Once the sides had been ground down and the edge was sharpened, the blade was secured to a wooden handle with a fiber cord. The finished adze was then ready to be used or traded for other goods or services.
The Hawaiian adze was attached to a bent wooden handle that allowed the user to swing it in a downward cutting motion. Occasionally a small adze blade would be fastened to the tip of a stick, and when the stick end was hit with a stone it would act as a chisel.
The adze was one of the most important tools in the Hawaiian Islands and large adzes were used for cutting trees and shaping canoes while smaller ones were used to carve things such as furniture, bowls, weapons, idols and small tools. (NPS)
Some adzes were undoubtedly storied objects carrying great significance while others were more common domestic tools. Perhaps the adzes of greatest significance were quarried in relatively limited number and reserved for chiefs. (Mills) Mauna Kea Adz Quarry is a National Historical Landmark.