Lonely Planet Writer

Shifting sands reveal 400-year-old petroglyphs to tourists in Hawaii

Two tourists stumbled across a remarkable discovery on the Hawaii coast;  400-year-old petroglyphs believed to have been created by the island’s aboriginal inhabitants.

One of the Waianae petroglyphs.
One of the Waianae petroglyphs. Image by Hawaii Dept. of Land & Natural Resources

Petroglyphs – a form of rock art created by carving into the rock surface – are an important part of Hawaii’s culture and the latest discovery was revealed only by chance by the shifting sands of the Waianae Coast.

Lonnie Watson and Mark Louviere from Texas happened to see the shapes as they admired the sunset. Lonnie explains, ““For some reason there was a beam of light…just a beam…it landed right on one of them and for some reason I just turned my head. I said, look, it was just a stroke of luck.”

One of the Waianae petroglyphs.
One of the Waianae petroglyphs. Image by Hawaii Dept. of Land & Natural Resources

Upon further investigation, at least 17 figures were unearthed along a 60-foot stretch of the beach. The petroglyphs are all etched into sandstone and believed to be 400 years old.

While it’s likely that the etchings have been revealed before, it’s the first time they’ve been officially reported. The State Historic Preservation Division enlisted the help of the US army to uncover the full discovery of petroglyphs on the beach and now has plans underway to preserve and protect them  The discovery is also an exciting one with Army archaeologist Alton Exzabe calling it a “significant find”.

The Waianae petroglyphs were revealed by shifting sands.
The Waianae petroglyphs were revealed by shifting sands. Image by Hawaii Dept. of Land & Natural Resources

“We discovered these petroglyphs that have never been recorded. We can now come up with a plan to further protect and preserve this site. The ones with the fingers, for me, are pretty unique.”

While they have been covered by the sands again for the time being, it’s likely they will be revealed again. When they are, bystanders will know they are fragile and shouldn’t be touched. Even the process of scraping sand away by hand or with brushes can damage the integrity of the figures.