1790 Footprints

Kristy Perez-Kaiwi


Photo by S.R. Brantley. Courtesy of: United States Geological Survey
Courtesy of: United States National Park Service

To discover a great find without intention must be an extraordinary surprise!  As Ruy H. Finch crossed the Keamoku clinker field, he found intriguing footprints preserved in a “cement-like” layer.  Finch, an assistant volcanologist to Dr. Thomas A. Jaggar, discovered the footprints while on a field excursion investigating the occurrence of the 1919 Kīlauea eruption.  Fossil footprints, as these are called, are believed to belong to the men, women, and children, of Keōuakū‘ahu‘ula’s fleet as they crossed over Kīlauea in 1790.  For years, many believed and still believe that these fossil footprints come from this era.  Historical accounts from Reverend Sheldon Dibble, Samuel Kamakau, and Mr. David Douglas, tell the story of Keōuakū‘ahu‘ula’s fleet and their demise.  A group of survivors from the 1790 event bear the following information: “The rear body [surviving group], which was nearest the volcano at the time of the eruption, seemed to suffer the least injury…[they] hastened forward to escape the dangers which threatened them, and rejoicing in mutual congratulations that they had been preserved in the midst of such imminent peril." The group before them did not experience the same fate, and were found "life-like," some joining noses (honi) in an act of final farewell [1]. 

With modern archeological and geological technology, some say that the footprints may not be from the 1790 eruption, but from everyday life activities in the area [2].   Whatever the case may be, these fossil footprints still leave a significant imprint on Hawai‘i and its great history.


1.  Dibble, Sheldon.  History of the Sandwich Islands.  Lahainaluna.  P. 65. 
2.  http://www.nps.gov/havo/historyculture/footprints.htm


Brigham, William T.  The Volcanoes of Kilauea and Mauna Loa.  Bishop Museum
Memoir.  Vol. II.  No. 4.  Pp. 36-40. 

Dibble, Sheldon.  History of the Sandwich Islands.  Lahainaluna.  P. 65.

Douglas, David.  “Extract of a letter to Capt. Sabine.”  The Royal Geographical Society
Vol. 4.  London.  Pp. 335-336.

Historic Hawaii Foundation.  http://www.historichawaii.org

Kamakau, Samuel.  Ke Kumu Aupuni.  Honolulu.  Pp. 106-107.

Kamakau, Samuel.  Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii.  Honolulu.  Pp. 152-153.