This rhyolite kōlea stone is from Hawai’i. Kōlea stones are pebbles engraved with a groove for a string. They were used as part of the equipment for capturing kōlea birds (Pacific Golden Plovers). This Kōlea stone probably dates to after ca. 1000 BP.
This kōlea stone is made from a small water-worn pebble of igneous rock. A groove about 2 mm deep was engraved around the middle to receive the string. Kōlea stones were often marked by other engravings which may have been made to designate ownership of the stone, and the bird caught by it. Markings include bird-track like ‘tridents’, crossed lines, and hatching. The kōlea stone in this model is engraved on one face with a V-shaped design.
Kōlea birds—Pacific Golden Plovers, Pluvialis fulva—breed in the Arctic tundra and then fly 4800 km non-stop to Hawai’i to spend the winter. The trip takes 3-4 days, and the birds sometimes fly at altitudes of up to 4900 m. They return to the same territory in Hawai’i each year where many of them were captured for food or boiled down for lamp oil. The method was referred to as pu’u and involved baiting a small double-pointed bird bone or stick, referred to as a ‘gorge’, with a grub. The gorge was tied to a long string, with a small stone (the kōlea stone) secured at the opposite end. When the grub was swallowed and the bird attempted to fly off, the weight of the stone would cause the gorge to turn crossways in the throat, securing the bird. Kōlea birds weigh between about 135-198 grams, and thus kōlea stones are relatively small, weighing about 80 grams on average. A report from 1899 describes the setting of ‘many hundreds’ of kōlea stone snares capturing ‘enormous numbers’ of birds. The witness notes that ‘the women and girls [are] quite as expert as the men at the practice.’