The first contact with the outside world

The first Europeans to spend a significant amount of time in Palau were the crew of the ship Antelope, which ran aground in 1783 (cf. Hezel 1983: 66ff.). The earthworks are not mentioned by the sailors who spent most of their time on the island of Koror. The shaped hills are first mentioned in the second half of the 19th century by J. Cheyne, an English trader in the Caroline Islands (Cheyne 1864). The earthworks were clearly visible in the landscape at that time, but they were no longer in use. Cheyne inquired about the function, builders, and age of the earthworks. His Palauan informants told him that the earthworks were the result of a great flood or that they were created by the gods. Another myth of origins says that the steps were formed when a giant snake wound its way down the slopes. The informants deemed it impossible for their own ancestors had created the monuments.

For a long time, this scarcity of volunteered information was interpreted in such a way that the Palauans no longer had any knowledge about the huge monuments that surrounded them. Despite the great importance of oral tradition and oral history, the knowledge about the builders, function, and significance of the earthworks seemed lost. This led to theories that the builders of the earthworks must have been a different people than the Palauans who lived there in the 19th century. Today we know that the sharing of information in traditional Palauan society is subject to a rigorous code (Liston 2009; Tellei et al. 2005; Kesolei 1977; Nero 1987). It is precisely regulated who is eligible to share what type of information with whom. It is highly unlikely that an interested European fell into this group at the time or that he happened to ask a Palauen who was authorized to pass on this information. Even in recent interviews with local elders, little information regarding the earthworks could be gained. To shed light onto the question of the genesis, function, chronology, and significance of the earthworks, several research projects have recently been carried out in Palau and especially on Babeldaob.


Challenges of an Island Ecosystem
The human factor
The monumental earthworks of Babeldaob
The first contact with the outside world
Brief history and state of research
Open questions
Geoarchaeological and archaeological research
Involvement of the local population
Project data