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A petroglyph photographed on the Pine Trees beach of the Big Island in Hawaii.

Huge Waves Provide Rare Glimpse of Hawaiian Petroglyphs


The huge waves that hit Hawaii during the weather phenomena known as El Niño (El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO)) excite surfers and, on the odd occasion, rock art enthusiasts too. They know that when the waves are tall enough, there is a chance to catch a glimpse of some centuries-old petroglyphs. The window of opportunity is often short, this time it was only a day, but the appeal is all the greater for the intermittent peeps at the past.

Hawaii News Now reports that petroglyphs were spotted last week on Pine Trees Beach of the Big Island's Kona Coast. Resident Avi Salvio took pictures of two of the petroglyphs before they had disappeared under the sand again less than 24 hours later. "They're a really special thing to see, but they disappear really fast," Salvio told the news agent.

One of the petroglyphs photographed on Pine Trees beach.

One of the petroglyphs photographed on Pine Trees beach. (Avi Salvio)

Adam Salvio said that in 42 years, he's only seen the carvings four times. "As you're watching during the day the sand will cover them up and you try to sweep the sand off of them so they'll stay up a little longer.”

Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

A complete analysis of the petroglyphs has not been possible, as most of the time they are hidden by 10 feet (3.05 meters) of sand. However, it is estimated about 70 ancient petroglyphs lie buried along the shore of Pine Trees. Hawaii News Now reports that there are more petroglyphs at Rock Piles and Ke Iki. It is thought that there are tens of thousands of these types of petroglyphs to be found throughout the island chain.

Ancient Origins reported of a similar event taking place in 2014 at Pupukea Beach, just east of the big-surf mecca of Waimea. More than 70 large petroglyphs became visible with the high tides then. The rock art there also followed the common theme of human-like figures and dogs.

University of Hawaii anthropology professor James Bayman explained that dogs were very meaningful in ancient Hawaiian culture, and that dog meat was reserved for high status men.

Some Hawaiian petroglyphs.

Some Hawaiian petroglyphs. (CC BY NC 2.0)

Bayman said that the petroglyphs at Pine Trees were created by striking the lava rock with another harder rock. Although providing a certain date has not been possible, he said that the petroglyphs could be centuries old.

Other analyses of Hawaiian petroglyphs suggest that they are records of births and other significant events in the lives of Native Hawaiians. They were also possibly used to document travels around and among the islands and to mark trails and boundaries. Additionally, ancient fishing techniques from about 2,000 years ago have been found depicted in some of the carvings.

Regardless of the meanings behind the symbols, Mr. Salvio explained that for him the rock art provides a link to the past. He told Hawaii News Now: "You're realizing that people were here so long ago and you know they were at your same beach and you're just reliving history again and you're doing the same thing that they've done, playing in the same area. It's pretty cool."

Featured Image: A petroglyph photographed on the Pine Trees beach of the Big Island in Hawaii. Source: Avi Salvio

By Alicia McDermott



Tsurugi's picture

Yeah. Gotta love the complete inattention to how these were carved(inattention of the scientists, not the author of the article), since they only become visible for a few hours every decade or so...while simultaneously suggesting that they may be "centuries old". Last I checked, sea levels have supposedly been fairly stable since about 10k BC.

Cofferdams, maybe?

Sea levels were much much lower during the last ice age – so maybe that is how old they actually are ? 

If they are under water now, where were they when they got carved?

Si vis pacem, para bellum

The two "guys" having a "stick" between legs - They are Soldiers "兵"
(The "stick" means close-ranged weapons, like a dagger, knife, etc.)

Alicia McDermott's picture


Alicia McDermott holds degrees in Anthropology, Psychology, and International Development Studies and has worked in various fields such as education, anthropology, and tourism. Traveling throughout Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador, Alicia has focused much of her research on Andean cultures... Read More

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