The monumental earthworks of Babeldaob

Terraced Landscape in Ngeremlengui
Terraced Landscape in Ngeremlengui C. Hartl-Reiter

On Palau and especially on Babeldaob the changes in the ecosystem went even further. Around 2400 BP Palauans began to transform the landscape of Babeldaob to an unprecedented degree. Huge amounts of material were moved in order to create horizontal surfaces, terraces, and other earthworks in the hilly terrain. These monumental structures dominate the Babeldaob landscape to this day. They usually extend over several hectares and form large, extensive complexes that are often connected to one another. The shapes of the earthworks do not suggest a function at first glance, as is the case with many agricultural terraces. Instead, there are forms that would make horticulture extremely difficult: The artificial slopes are so high and steep that it is hard to climb them. Surrounding trenches make the access even more difficult. The surface of the so-called crowns, the highest points of these earthworks, is usually too small for any significant yields.

 Knol of the Ngerbuns el Bad earthwork in Aimeliik
Knol of the Ngerbuns el Bad earthwork in Aimeliik C. Hartl-Reiter

Thus, the function of these monuments is still unclear despite some archaeological investigations in recent years. Many questions regarding the genesis, chronology and the cultural significance of the monumental earthworks remain unanswered. What is certain, however, is that the extent and degree of Babeldaob's landscape transformation at this early point in time was unique in the Pacific island world. The pan-oceanic concept of displaying political and religious power through monumentality seems to have originated in Palau.

 

Introduction
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