How Old is Alakoko Fishpond?

By Jan TenBruggencate

The best available evidence suggests that the Alakoko Fishpond was established about 600 years ago and that it was built by constructing a wall that cut off a bend in the Hulē`ia River.

Detailed dating of woody fragments, including charcoal, was performed by anthropogist David Burney, and was reported in a 2003 paper in the journal Pacific Science.

Burney cited the late Kaua`i archaeologist Bill Kikuchi as identifying Alakoko as “one of the finest examples in the entire archipelago of prehistoric stonework and fishpond construction.”

In 2002, Burney drove a core sampler 12 feet into the sediment in the pond. The deepest layer of sediment was dated at roughly (give or take 70 years) 3230 years before the sample was taken. That would have placed the year when those sediments were deposited at about 1300 B.C.

There was no indication of human activity in those deep sediments. But everything changed at about 580 years before Burney was testing. There, he found a layer of woody debris, grasses and charcoal, suggesting a lot of activity was going on in the area at that time. Small amounts of charcoal particles start appearing about six inches below this layer.

Burney concludes that the charcoal, which is rare below this zone, is an indication that there were fire-building humans in the environment. Some of the ash and charcoal from those fires made its way into the river sediment before and around the time the fishpond was being built.

“We interpret this charcoal record to suggest that human settlement at the site extends back at least seven centuries,” Burney wrote.

His calculations suggest that early Hawaiians were active in the Niumalu area of east Kaua`i about the year 1300, and that the fishpond was established a century later, between 1390 and 1450. That range centers on 1420—about 600 years ago.

alakoko 1890
One of the earliest available photographs of Alakoko is from about 1890 taken by Severin. Source: Kauai Museum