Micronesian Diary
Felicia R. Beardsley
Leluh Islets and Utwe

Kosrae State, FSM - June 1999

June 4, 1999

Reef Islands, Leluh Channel
Reef Islands, Leluh Channel

These are the reef islands off Leluh. I have a picture of the passage or channel between them. The places where you see the palms are the highest portion of the islets, and the most stable. They would present the best candidates for occupation; whether that occupation was temporary or not, we cannot say. At any rate, beyond these islets is the reef, and if I were the seat of a paramountcy, I would want myself covered on all fronts, keeping an eye out for the possibility that someone may just sneak in for some reason or other --- that is, of course, if the political organization on Kosrae was anything like the organization of other places that had achieved a complex chiefly structure. I went there over a week ago, but I have not had a chance to load the photos into the computer and send them off.

Reef Islands, Leluh 2
Reef Islands, Leluh --- looking to the left of the channel

Reef Islands, Leluh 3
Reef Islands, Leluh --- looking to the right of the channel

June 7, 1999

Utwe, wall constructionWe started a new site today. This one is in Utwe, at the south end of the island, in the general (and I stress "general") area where the pirate Bully Hayes had settled, until he fled before the naval authorities could capture him. Our site is fairly small, perhaps the homestead of a single family. It is located against a slope on an alluvial flat within a stream drainage; the stream is perhaps 50 meters away, and surrounding the site all the way to the stream are taro plants. The site itself consists of a meter-high wall made of basalt boulders that surrounds a compound divided into two sections. One section contains a raised platform that had at one time served as the foundation for a house; the other section is paved and contains an um; and between the two is a small opening or gateway in the wall. We found a few seka pounding stones, but no seka stones (at least not yet). A portion of the site has been buried by the debris from a road constructed just upslope from the compound.

Photo above: Utwe, wall construction

Utwe, gateway
Utwe, gateway

Utwe, activity area
Utwe, activity area

Utwe, platform
Utwe, platform

Our day was rather slow and easy. The crew cleared a path through the brush from the main road to the site, while Nena and I occupied ourselves at the site discussing each feature in detail and going over mapping strategies: how would he map it, how would I map it, how has he mapped such sites in the past, and so on. Our discussion took many turns, including the myth, magic and reality of moving the boulders that make up the walls, especially the base course which is composed of very large boulders. The boulders are local, from the immediate area; Nena is familiar enough with the area to be able to recall the slopes covered with boulders. This area is also supposedly one of the sources of building material on Leluh. This is what turned our conversation to the discussion of moving such large blocks of material by magic and muscle; like the building blocks at Nan Madol, oral history here says that the stone used to build the architectural compounds such as this one as well as Leluh were moved by magic, that they floated to their current positions in the compound walls.

From this discussion, we moved on to the differences or similarities of legends, oral histories, and fairy tales --- what is the story of Chuab in Palau? how about the Sleeping Lady in Kosrae? and Cinderella? The first two are legends and oral history (a generic term for any narrative tradition or story passed down from one generation to the next, but not in a written form); the third is not. And that brought us around to the notion that Europeans and those European-descended colonizers of places like the Americas are all the poorer because they don't have such legends and tales that are embedded in their traditions, remembered, recited nearly daily, and in essence make them who they are. Okay, okay, there is always Beowulf, the Icelandic tales, the Song of Roland and such, but these have long ago passed into the realm of period literature and are no longer recognized as a part of what makes us who we are.

We returned to our mapping problem, reviewed the compass (Nena has a quadrant compass, while mine is in azimuth), and made sure Nena found his pace (it is always good to know your pacing interval, in the event you need to ever map a site by yourself or buy enough fencing to make sure your yard is fully enclosed). Our day ended as it began, on an easy note. We begin mapping tomorrow.

June 8, 1999

It is just me and the crew today; Nena had car trouble. With a new site facing us, I decided our first order of business was to create a map, and that meant training the crew in the fundamentals of map making. Using a compass, hand level, tape, and elevation rod we not only mapped the site and all its features, but obtained the necessary elevations for profiles (cross-sections) and finished early. The crew did a marvelous job and caught on very quickly to the use of each instrument.

Alik's FishWe were nearly halfway done with the site map before our lunch break. As none of us really brings lunch into the field (well, I bring oranges and tangarines which everyone snacks on, and one of the crew brings rice), each of us went off in different directions. Alik decided he was going to catch fish in the stream and went to work making a fishing line out of some of the string I had brought; the other guys wandered off. I decided I would see if there was a waterfall upstream, as I kept hearing one throughout the day. I followed the stream until I came to a boulder field; huge basalt boulders that probably reflected the state of the slopes around our site prior to the road construction. I found the source of the stream. It was not waterfall, but a series of boulders and pools over which the stream was flowing. The source itself is dammed and there is a pipeline coming from it; this is the water source for Utwe Village, and was built about 20 years ago.

Alik Sigrah
Alik Sigrah

I heard some crashing around behind me as I was looking over the stream source; it was three of the boys. "Is that a waterfall?" they asked. And as soon as they saw the pools of water, they each headed directly toward them and made themselves comfortable, cooling off with their feet dangling in the water.

Utwe --- the boys cooling off
Utwe, the boys cooling off in the stream

On the way back to the site I ran into a monitor lizard, but it was too quick for me to get any sort of picture, and I came across a single course alignment of basalt boulders. I don't know if this is an historical site; I didn't spend a lot of time looking at it, but it could be. I need Nena here to go over this one with me. The alignment was just outside the main boulder field, and was simply too orderly to be the work of nature.

June 9, 1999

Still no Nena; he had to videotape the graduation at Malem Elementary School for the State archives. As he was leaving the office, he called after me and said not to go too fast at the site because he doesn't want to miss anything. And in keeping with Nena's request, we tried to slow our pace a bit today, but you can only slow down so much.

Utwe, eastern side
Utwe, from the eastern side

The crew members put up the tarps over the two areas we are going to actually excavate within the site, while I spent my time wandering toward the west looking for some patch of ground in which we could sink a stratigraphic trench. This is the opposite direction I took yesterday, away from the stream source. We are within a wetlands zone, and it will be interesting to see if our site is on the only patch of dry ground in this entire stream basin; perhaps it sits on a buried portion of the boulder field, at the toe of a slope. In the process, I came across another possible site (oh, where is Nena when you need him?), this one composed of walls of irregular coursed stacked basalt boulders and cobbles. There is not much remaining, or visible, as it is mostly buried by the road construction. Like our site and the possible site I came across yesterday, this one also sits at the toe of the slope. As I was unable to find any dry ground, I decided to go ahead and put a trench near our site. I knew that we would not get very far before it filled with water, but my goal was more for the benefit of Nena, to show him what agricultural soil looks like and how you can get at least a rough idea of the stratigraphy of an area even with a trench filled with water.

Utwe, setting up the unit
Utwe, setting up the unit

Utwe, setting up
Utwe, setting up the tarp

Yos and Swin went to work on the trench; you'll notice in one of the photos that Swinger has no shoes. I asked him where they were, and he pointed to the site saying, they're over there. I think he prefers to do it barefoot.

Utwe, trench work
Utwe, starting the stratigaphic trench... but no shoes

The other three guys and I began to set up the excavation units, and do the odds and ends one needs done in preparation for excavation. One unit went into the area of our possible um (with the potential to recover datable material); the other unit was set against the platform to look at the seating of the base course and preparations made to the ground surface prior to construction. Lyndon then went to work sharpening the trowels; Junior decided one of the trowels was not quite sharp enough and made some improvements on that one. He produced a trowel with a near knife-like edge that I saw him later using to cut grass. As I said earlier, we were trying to move slowly, for Nena's sake.

Utwe, unit screening
Utwe, unit screening

And we began our excavations. My directions to the crew were that they must make every effort at this site to create clean, crisp walls, sharp corners, spotless units. I say this, because it will not take us very much time to go through the excavations. The site is relatively small; if we were to excavate more than our two units, we would cover nearly the entire site. Instead, we will work on technique.

Utwe, Unit 1, Level 2
Utwe, Unit 1 level 2

By the end of the day, we had gone one level in each unit. Without knowing our stratigraphy in advance, we are excavating in artificial levels of 10 cm each. The possible um turned out to be a sunken portion of the pavement; this was no um. And our architectural unit was just on the verge of exposing a buried apron around the base of the platform wall.

Looking at the site as a whole, it does not appear to be as isolated as we had first believed. Originally, according to the landowner, this was the only site on this side of the stream drainage. But with the encounter over the last two days of two other possible sites, our site (Palusrik) appears to have neighbors. I still need confirmation on that from Nena, but as a first impression I think we are looking at a series of small homesteads on this stream bench.

Utwe, me and Nena
Utwe, me and Swinger on the screen

June 10, 1999

Today was called off for the field owing to rain, and lots of it. It rained almost constantly through the night and well into the day. All of us spent the day inside. The crew spent their time either picking small hair-size roots out of the charcoal and burned soil samples from the Tofol site, or they practiced their skills in observation by analyzing adzes and adze fragments from the museum collection. Nena and I both worked on maps: he worked at completing the Tofal site base map; I created the base map for Palusrik, our site in Utwe.

Utwe, Burdry Talley
Utwe, Burdy Talley working on Unit 1

June 12, 1999

I went over to Yenasr today; walked over from Leluh. It is a rather tiring walk because you are walking through the lagoon, and the water provides a bit of resistant force --- it is, to say the least, a good work-out. When I got there I took my time walking over the islet, looking at its edges, trying to find the adze/tridacna working areas, and anything else that might stand out. I kept wondering what Cordy had seen out here, because he never really says. I know, from his writing, that it had an artificial wall of rounded basalt boulders marking its perimeter, that the fill for the islet was coral, that at high tide the lower fill portions are inundated, and that it was eroding. I found eroding areas too, all around the perimeter and especially on the lower filled area. I also found a lot of adze working debris (tridacna shell, the hinge portion of the shell, lots of flakes, some fragments of the shell margin, and adze fragments that look as though they are made out of a different clam such as a Hippopus, but I really need a shell identification book to be sure), a lot of shell midden, a lot of fire-cracked rock, and many fragments of flattish pieces of basalt, almost rasp shaped. I suspect it is another tool here, used in concert with the coral for shaping and grinding. One thing I found on the islet that Cordy makes no mention of is architecture. There are walls, platforms, cleared-out areas that could have been used for structures, even a walkway lined on both sides with upright coral slabs. All in all, it looks like a small reef islet that was augmented and built out onto the reef flat.

June 14, 1999

Today is Ed Ferdon's birthday. I sent him birthday greetings; I only wish we were working on some massive piece of architecture in his honor. We are not, but we are working on a small, incredibly intact compound that likely housed a single family and was part of a larger community settlement pattern.

We got busy today with our units. With Nena among us, it was a lot easier moving from one unit to the next, as he did the same thing, stopping to instruct the crew or explain some nuance that was probably easier to understand in Kosraean. We also had a new fellow join us, Burdy Talley. Stan is going to hire four more guys, which will bring our total crew up to ten. We will need it, too, as next week they are going to Walung to clear the site. It is heavily overgrown with pioneering vegetation like grasses, but also quite a few trees and shrubberies. It will take a lot of work, I think, because it is a big site.

Utwe, Nena inspecting the unit
Utwe, Nena inspecting a unit

My role at Palusrik, our current site, is becoming more and more supervisory. Nena is taking a more active role in guiding the crew; they are also doing more of the paperwork, like creating measured plan view drawings of each excavation level. I am still compiling each level summary, but using the information they give me: what they found in the screen, what they encountered while digging, how many liters of soil came out of their level, and so on.

In Unit 1, the sunken pavement unit, we removed those paving stones that could be moved and continued our excavations. At this point, I am after dating material, like charcoal, and to see how far we can really go in our digging before we either hit part of the basalt boulder field or parent soil or water (we are, after all, on a stream bench in the middle of a wetlands).

Utwe, Unit 2, level 2 paving
Utwe, Unit 2, Level 2, paving

In Unit 2, the unit abutting the platform, we have exposed a stone pavement that had a mix of soil, pebbles and small cobbles packed between the main paving stones. We came across the same sort of interstitial filling in the sunken pavement too, but it is more pronounced in this unit. The foundation of the platform is now visible with a small apron of stone to reinforce the footings, along with a gap between the platform and the pavement. This gap was filled with small cobbles, pebbles, and soil.

During a break in the day, Nena and I took off to the east so I could show him the single course boulder alignment I had encountered last week. He agreed with me, it was indeed a site. We found more and more boulders within the alignments. Tomorrow we'll head to the west so I can show him the other site. All this means is that our site is not alone, it is part of a larger settlement complex that would have been reached mainly by the stream that flows just a few meters away from our site. I wonder if this complex is related in any way to the collection of boulders for the construction of Leluh?

June 15, 1999

We never did make it to the site west of Palusrik. Nena was feeling a bit fragile today, a little sick with something, so he eased his way through the day.

We made great progress on our two units, completing and closing Unit 1 and nearly completing Unit 2. It looks like tomorrow will be our last day on the site. We were able to take Unit 1 into the parent soil of this stream bench, and ended up stopping when we hit the water table. You can't see anything below the water level, and the fact that we made it into the parent soil is sufficient for our purposes. From all appearances, this part of the compound is built on wetlands, I mean soil that is and remains wet. No wonder this entire bench is planted in taro; it is definitely well-watered. Below the main pavement is a series of additional paving stones, each askew but with their flat surfaces generally oriented toward the ground surface above; however, these stones had sunk into the soil, likely the result of the wet and rather unstable ground. Additional paving stones were placed on top of the sunken stones, in what appear to be successive periods of repair or renovation.

Utwe, Unit 2, Level 1
Utwe, Unit 2, Level 1

Utwe, Unit 2, Level 3
Utwe, Unit 2, Level 3

We were able to recover charcoal throughout Unit 1, with the majority most definitely below the pavement; we even hit a small pocket of ash. The random and scattered distribution of charcoal (and our pocket of ash) suggests that a fire or cooking place (an um) was farther upslope; if this soil was wet during construction of the pavement, then you would not want to fight its continued dampness in your routine fire-making and cooking activities.

Unit 2 was taken down to Level 4, below the pavement and into an underlaying cultural layer loaded with charcoal. The crew looked at our new soil layer in the bottom of the unit and asked what it meant, why was it there. We had an impromptu review of the stratigraphy so far exposed by the unit, beginning at the bottom and working our way up. This newly exposed layer, I told them, means people were living or working or both on this spot before construction of at least the pavement and platform (the soil layer continues under the platform), and that at some point,they decided to lay their pavement and build their platform. The effort that went into this activity was great, as it meant laying down and packing a foundation of soil into which the pavement stones and the foundation of the platform were seated. The pavement in particular was made up of several different-sized basalt boulders with varying shapes, but each one had at least one flat face used as the pavement itself. The remainder of the boulder was set into the packed soil foundation; if you were to look at just a profile of the bottom surface of the pavement, you would see a very uneven line with some stones jutting far into the packed soil, others sitting just below the surface. The very visible goal of this whole process was to end up with a level surface of rock across the extent of the pavement.

We ran out of time, and will finish Unit 2 tomorrow.

June 16, 1999

This is our last day at Palusrik in Utwe. It is going to be a half-day only, as I have a meeting in the afternoon, but this will still be plenty of time for us to complete everything we need to do, including closing up the units and cleaning the equipment.

When we arrived on site, we found that Unit 2 was filled with water; no matter how much we tried to bail out the water, it would come rushing back into the unit through the walls. We ended up excavating about half the unit at this point, down one more level. The water was muddy, to say the least, with zero visibility. Our only indication of the soils we were encountering below the water level was that with each trowel, full muddy mucky blobs were brought to the surface. To my relief, we were beginning to hit parent soil near the very base of the level. Frankly, it is a good thing I chose to dig a stratigraphic trench in the wetlands, outside the walls of the site; it allowed Nena the opportunity to "read" soils and their relative placement to one another under water. I had him scrape the walls of the trench at various depths, feel the texture of the soil with his trowel, break off a bit and bring it up out of the water so we could get a closer look at it. This lesson came in handy for the last bit of digging in Unit 2. Nena was able to tell, by feel, that we were encountering a new soil layer, which was confirmed upon viewing the soils brought up on his trowel.

Utwe, Unit 1, Level 4
Utwe, Unit 1, Level 4

That was it, that was our final act in the excavation of this site. We closed the units and the stratigraphic trench, laid the paving stones we had taken from each unit back onto their respective surfaces, and said our farewells to the site. Filling in the stratigraphic trench was an easy task (sort of) because the soil taken out was deposited next to the trench; I say "sort of" because it rained our last day and the soil was thoroughly saturated, not only from its initial submerged environment but also from the rain, all of which made it heavy. Filling the units was another matter entirely, as we had to use the soil we had sifted during the excavations. For Unit 1, there was little problem as the unit is adjacent to our screening area; for Unit 2 we were obliged to create a train of soil-filled buckets, passing each bucket from the screening pile and across the wall dividing the compound in order to fill the unit as much as possible. You can see from the photo that we could not collect enough soil to completely fill the unit; quite a bit had washed away from our screening pile with each successive day of rain during our time at the site.

Burdy cleaning screens
Burdy cleaning the screens

Lyndon and his chickenWe had a couple of visitors with us for this final day: Lyndon's pet rooster and his younger brother. So our final acts were serenaded by the crowing of Lyndon's chicken, while his brother climbed all over the site, helped us fill in the units, and took charge of Lyndon's pet when it came time to carry equipment out of the site.

June 17, 1999

My day was busier than I thought; it was sort of a dry run for the training workshop I am supposed to direct in Yap at the end of the summer. We reviewed the use of a level, spending the whole day at it and using the Tofol site as our mapping practice. First one member of the crew, then the next, each in turn had to practice leveling, sighting, and reading the instrument. In the meantime, I was running back and forth, showing the rod and tape guys where to stand for the next mapping point, reviewing the reading of the instrument guy, and then making sure the note-taker was recording each reading as it was called out to him. Nena was gone through all of this; actually he was working on the new office truck. Stan had apparently blown out the headlights. No one knows how it happens, but Stan inevitably blows out the headlights of every vehicle they get. Perhaps it is simply a coincidence, because he seems to drive the most out of those in the office; who knows.

Junior and Lyndon on the level
Junior and Lyndon working with the level

Burdy on the rod
Burdy manning the rod

Burdy and Alik
Burdy and Alik at work with level and rod

Anyway, we let the guys go early today; it was hot and they have to get themselves rested and mentally prepared for the clearing work next week. I told them that when I step onto the site late next week, I want to see it spotless, no stray bush or stick to mar my view of the site; I don't think they believed me, because they started laughing.

Late that afternoon, Nena asked if we could go over the use of the level. It is a new instrument for him, although it should not be much different than operating a transit, which he is used to doing. At any rate, I basically started all over again, but this time we stayed inside, in the museum part of the office. Berlin joined us too; he was curious about the level. That is the one thing you notice about people who know how to map with instruments: they are always interested in someone else's instrument. My level is new to these guys, and setting it up is a bit different from their transit; not getting it level once on the tripod, but setting the reference line. I don't have a compass in my level, so I had to show them how I set an assumed meridian and begin mapping from that point. Nena and I then went over the calculation of elevations and created a cross-section profile of the museum, showing the different elevations of display cabinets, chairs, the floor, our work table, a pretend hole in the floor, and so on, all relative to one another.

That was it for me. It was a very hot day today, but at least it didn't rain on me and the crew when we were doing our mapping exercises.

Next: Islander conference and preparations for Walung