Bringing decades of rich Pacific archaeological expertise

Anthropologist Patrick Kirch joins the UH Mānoa College of Social Sciences

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Lisa M Shirota, (808) 956-7352
Communications Director, Social Sciences, Dean's Office
Posted: Oct 8, 2019

Patrick V. Kirch
Patrick V. Kirch
Professor Kirch in 2005 at the Onemea archaeological site on Taravai Island in French Polynesia.
Professor Kirch in 2005 at the Onemea archaeological site on Taravai Island in French Polynesia.

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, 'Āina, 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 Hawai‘i,” 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.