Letter to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, City Edition, Friday September 7, 2001
Congratulations on the excellent article on Aug. 12 by Anthony Sommer about the work of paleoecologist David Burney at Maha'ulepu on Kauai. Burney's work gives a marvelous perspective on the drastic changes that have occurred in the environment of the islands starting with the arrival of humans perhaps 1,200 years ago. Your article states: "Bones of pigs brought by the Polynesians begin appearing and the bones of flightless birds begin disappearing, indicating they were slowly hunted to extinction." This wording may suggest that pigs quickly became widespread in the forest after Polynesians arrived. I have questioned Burney and his colleagues on this topic. It seems that the small bones of Polynesian pigs are found in conjunction with Polynesian human habitation sites such as coastal Maha'ulepu -- not in contemporaneous upland sites studied by Burney and others, where the bones of Pacific rats are typically the best marker of human presence on an island. Polynesian pigs seem to have been carefully tended by the early Hawaiians and not to have invaded upland forests. Bones of the larger feral European pigs, which roam Hawaii's forests today and wreak havoc on the native plants and animals, do not appear in the pre-Captain Cook sinkhole strata.