Patrick V. Kirch
Patrick V. Kirch

Editor’s note, October 24—Kirch will be honored with the first-ever Society for Hawaiian Archaeology (SHA) Lifetime Achievement Award during the SHA conference, October 25-27, at the Kona Imin Center.

A giant in the field of Polynesian archaeology—born and raised in Mānoa, educated at Yale University, taught for three decades at the University of California, Berkeley—has returned home to pass on his knowledge of Hawaiʻi’s rich past to future generations.

Patrick V. Kirch, who has joined the College of Social Sciences as an anthropology professor, recently gave a public lecture on his new book, Heiau, ʻĀina, Lani: The Hawaiian Temple System in Ancient Kahikinui and Kaupō, Maui, at the Bishop Museum’s Atherton Halau.

“My goals at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, and for the islands, are to push the boundaries of research in Hawaiian and Polynesian archaeology, build programs that create rich learning opportunities for our students, and to work with local communities to preserve archaeological sites and promote cultural heritage,” he said.

Kirch’s longstanding relationship with Bishop Museum dates back to his youth as a 13-year-old Punahou student. He first volunteered in the museum’s malacology program, but soon joined the museum’s archaeologists on summer projects on Hawaiʻi and Maui islands. These experiences inspired Kirch to study Polynesian anthropology and archaeology.

Students of Kirch, who leads a class in Hawaiian archaeology this fall, may be unaware of his eminence as a scholar, researcher and storyteller. The author of about 20 books and hundreds of scholarly articles, Kirch was elected to membership of the highly regarded National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

“We are so fortunate that Dr. Kirch has brought his lifelong expertise and love for teaching to our campus, college and Hawaiʻi,” said College of Social Sciences Dean Denise Konan. “A giant in archaeology, he also seeks to build new bridges with community partners, like Bishop Museum, so as to provide living research opportunities for our students.”

Kirch’s latest book, published by UH Press, chronicles a 17-year research odyssey as he, his students and research associates rediscovered the remains of more than 70 temples (heiau) in Kahikinui and Kaupō in southeast Maui, one of the largest tracts of undeveloped land in the islands. The research has shown that the heiau were not only places of ritual and prayer, but also locations for astronomical observation, essential to maintaining the traditional Hawaiian calendar.

archeologist doing research
Kirch in 2005 at the Onemea archaeological site on Taravai Island in French Polynesia.

More about Kirch

After completing his PhD in anthropology at Yale, Kirch worked on the Bishop Museum staff for 10 years, carrying out research in the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Hawaiʻi. In 1989, he joined the Berkeley faculty to continue his active research on Hawaiʻi and Polynesia, training more than 16 doctoral students. Many of his former students have gone on to productive careers in Pacific and Hawaiian archaeology.

After retiring from Berkeley and returning to the islands in 2019, he joined the College of Social Sciences and serves on the Bishop Museum board of directors.