In 1790, a party of warriors and their families was decimated by an explosive eruption of Kilauea; fatality estimates range from about 80 to 5,405. In 1920, thousands of footprints made by barefoot walkers in wet accretionary lapilli ash were found within a few kilometers southwest of Kilauea's summit. In 1921, Jaggar related the footprints to survivors or rescuers of the 1790 eruption, mainly because he assumed that few people visited the supposedly forbidden area except in 1790. Archaeologists from Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park recently questioned whether the footprints were made at that time and by warriors, citing a wide range of directions that people were walking and evidence of extensive human use of the area. Forensic and anthropologic studies indicate that a human foot is about 15 percent of an individual's height. A man's foot may be slightly more that 15 percent, a women's slightly less, but nonetheless the height can be estimated to within a few centimeters. We measured the heel-big toe length of more than 400 footprints and calculated an average height of 1.5 m, including some children only a little more than 1 m tall. Few calculated heights are 1.75 m or more. Early Europeans described Hawaiian warriors as tall, one missionary estimating an average height of 1.78 m. A footprint may be larger than a foot, particularly in slippery, wet ash, so our estimates of heights are probably somewhat too large. The data indicate that most of the footprints were made by women and children, not by men, much less warriors. We traced the footprint-bearing ash into the tephra section on the southwest side of Kilauea's caldera. It occurs high in the section, resting on older explosive deposits. Its surface is indented by small lithic lapilli, which fell into the ash while it was still wet; a few even landed in footprints. The lithic lapilli are at the edge of a thick block and lapilli deposit that fell from a high eruption column; the column reached well into the jet stream, because its fallout was mainly dispersed east-southeastward by westerlies, a wind direction found only at high altitudes in Hawai'i. Surges associated with the high eruption column swept over the southwest and west rims of the caldera. These relations indicate that the accretionary lapilli (footprints) ash was an early stage of a powerful eruption involving both high columns and lithic surges. Hawaiian oral tradition says that the 1790 eruption was large, and Jaggar calculated a column height probably greater than 9 km (30,000 ft) based on observations of a pillar (eruption column) seen over Mauna Loa when viewed from the north. This is about halfway through the jet stream. Our work found two deposits of the late 1700s dispersed east of Kilauea's summit. The younger was probably erupted in 1790. A reconstruction of events in 1790 suggests that the accretionary lapilli ash fell early in the eruption, blown southwestward into areas where family groups, mainly women and children, were chipping glass from old pahoehoe for tools. They probably sought shelter while the ash was falling. but once it stopped, they slogged through the mud, leaving footprints in the 2-cm-thick deposit.. Meanwhile, the warriors and their families, camped at Kilauea's summit (supposedly for 3 days) waiting for the eruption to end, saw the sky clear following the ash eruption and started walking southwestward along the west side of the summit area. Then the most powerful stage of the eruption began, sending surges westward across the path of the doomed group, killing many. Afterwards, any survivors or rescuers who walked on the accretionary lapilli ash, by now dry, left no footprints that are preserved.
AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts
- Pub Date:
- December 2008
- 8428 Explosive volcanism;
- 8486 Field relationships (1090;
- 8488 Volcanic hazards and risks;
- 8499 General or miscellaneous