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The purpose of this page is to help gain insight as to how Kukuipahu Heiau was constructed. The information on this page was found from Kirch et al. (2019) who analyzes features that are unique to this site and the different types of rocks used to build the heiau. From this staple report, learn about where the materials came from, who possibly built it, and what kinds of modifications took place over time. 

Below are important highlights from the Kirch et. al (2019) report published in the Rapa Nui Journal. To reference the full report, click the pdf to the left. 

Material: Type of Stones Used


Figure 1. Derived from Kirch et al. (2019: 40), showing illustration of Kukuipahu Heiau. Each color corresponds to the different types of rocks observed at the site. This was made by Alan Carpenter, an author of this report, as a plan map "based on plane table and alidade survey". 

In the Kirch et al. (2019) report , he shares about three different type of pōhaku (stones) that make up the foundation of the temple. 

1. Cut-and-dressed lava rock 


These modified lava rocks are carefully crafted and fit together to create a sound structure. The most prominent array of scoria is located outside the south-west side as seen above in the illustration of various orientations of the heiau's rocks. 

2. Cut-and-dressed red scoria


The modified rocks, especially the red scoria, are strategically posted on the sides of the heiau. The most prominent array of scoria is located outside the south-east side as seen above in the illustration. "Between 1–1.5 km north of the site are a series of scoria cinder cones, including Pu‘u Ula (“Red Hill”), which may have been the source for the reddish scoria blocks at the site. Other scoria cones, including Pu‘u Mamo, lie about 1.2 km to the southeast; these could also have been a source of the red scoria blocks (Kirch et al. (2019:39)"


A map of Puʻu ʻUla in relationship to Kukuipahu Heiau can be found in the 'Maps & Photos' page.  However, it is not completely confirmed that this is where the origin of those rocks came from. In order to be absolutely sure, there needs to be testing of rock samples to supply tangible and definite evidence. 

3. Natural lava rock


The last type of rock used are natural, unmodified stones. This style of stone is commonly found throughout the Hawaiian Islands, especially for religious structures such as a heiau. These stacked rocks are formed in a rectangular shape with openings and different features such as rooms. This formation of rocks is what is mostly seen at the heiau today, however the modified rocks are still present and prominent features of the heiau's identity. 

Phases of Construction

The construction of Kukuipahu Heiau is unique in that it is unlike any other heiau in Hawaiʻi. It is suspected from the report that there are at least two different construction periods.

The first utilizing cut-and-dressed stones and the second utilizing natural stacked lava rocks. Because these styles are so different, it is suspected that this heiau was repurposed or modified. However, it is common for a heiau to be modified throughout history. By analyzing these two construction phases, we are also able to draw connections between the people associated with these different construction phases of Kukuipahu Heiau. 

Construction Phase 1


Figure 2. Derived from Kirch et al. (2019:50) , hypothesized sketch of what the first phase of construction of Kukuipahu Heiau may have looked like based on the orientation of the rocks. The rock with the dots indicate red scoria. 

The initial construction utilized cut-and-dressed scoria and stones similar to marae rather than a traditional Hawaiian heiau. Marae are the Polynesian equivalent to Hawaiian heiau; a religious and sacred structure. It is said that it was these Polynesian people who were responsible for building this heiau, especially since this was not a typical style of construction for Native Hawaiians. However, there was one chief mentioned, Umi-a-Liloa, who was perhaps the only Hawaiian aliʻi to utilize cut-and-dressed rocks. Because of this, one of Kirch's hypothesis is that Kukuipahu Heiau may have been constructed and associated with ʻUmi. 


The rocks are modified and fitted together to form a terrace as seen in figure 2. This flat terrace of rocks also has cut stones and scoria strategically placed on every side. "There is reason to think that the early phase at Kukuipahu Heiau was intentionally oriented to the east, in such a manner that it falls within 2°–3° of the equinoctial rising of “the great sun of Kāne” (Kirch et al. (2019:52). 

Construction Phase 2

The second phase of construction is where the natural, unmodified rocks are utilized as new material. There is no figure specifically connected to this phase of construction, but it is thought to have been done by none other than the Hawaiian people. The more traditional Hawaiian style of heiau construction of heiau uses various natural rocks stacked into a sound structure.


According to Kirch's report, these rocks are stacked on top of the original terrace construction. Unlike the scoria rocks, the origins of these rocks are unknown. Most likely being lava rocks, these rocks could have been harvested from a number of nearby places. To figure out the origins of Kukuipahu's heiau rocks, testing and research is needed.  

2022 Spring Break Research Project

In Spring of 2022, Archaeologist Patrick Kirch and Team, along with State archaeologist Tracy Tam Sing and Team, spent 1 week at Kukuipahu.  Their overall goal was to finally date the heiau phases of construction.  Very good samples of charcoal from kukui and other midden were found and used for radio carbon dating.  The results are included in this report.  Information will be used for future studies and reports for stabilization and hopefully, one day, restoration of this very special wahi pana o Kohala.

Patrick Kirchʻs report
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