Nan Madol

From Academic Kids

Consisting of a series of small artificial islands linked by a network of canals, Nan Madol is often called the Venice of the Pacific. It is located near the island of Pohnpei, nowadays part of the Federated States of Micronesia, and used to be the capital of the Saudeleur dynasty until about 1500 A.D. Nan Madol means "spaces between" and is a reference to its canals.

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Nan Madol was the ceremonial and political seat of the Saudeleur dynasty which united Pohnpei's estimated 25,000 people. Set apart on the main island of Pohnpei, it was the scene of human activity as early as the first or second century AD. By the 8th or 9th century, islet construction started, but the distinctive megalithic architecture was probably not begun until perhaps the 12th or early 13th century.

Purpose and features

The elite centre was a special place of residence for the nobility and of mortuary activities presided over by priests. Its population almost certainly did not exceed 1,000 and may have been less than half that. Although many of the residents were chiefs, the majority were commoners. Nan Madol served, in part, as a means by which the ruling Saudeleur chiefs both organized and controlled potential rivals by requiring them to live in the city rather than in their home districts, where their activities were difficult to monitor.

Madol Powe, the mortuary sector contains 58 islets in the northeastern area of Nan Madol. Most islets were once occupied by the dwellings of priests. Some islets serve special means, like food preparations on Usennamw, canoe construction on Dapahu, and coconut oil preparation on Peinering. High walls surrounding tombs are located on Peinkitel, Karian, and Lemenkou, but the crowning achievement is the royal mortuary islet of Nandauwas, where walls of 18 to 25 feet high surround a central tomb enclosure within the main courtyard.

Food and water

On Nan Madol there is no fresh water and no food. One must go inland to gather water and grow food. For the Saudelaurs this was no problem - since they were the supreme rulers the people brought them what they needed. When the Saudelaurs were overthrown and the period of the Nahnmwarkis began, the Nahnmwarkis lived at Nan Madol, but they had to gather their water and grow their food themselves, causing them to eventually abandon Nan Madol and move back to their own districts - although other explanations exists for the deserting of the complex, like a sharp population decline.

Archeology and tourism

Today Nan Madol forms an archaeological district covering more than 18 sq. km and includes the stone architecture built up on a coral reef flat along the shore of Temwen Island, several other artificial islets, and the adjacent Pohnpei main island coastline. The site core with its stone walls encloses an area approximately 1.5 km long by 0.5 km wide and it contains nearly 100 artificial islets - stone and coral fill platforms - bordered by tidal canals.

carbon dating indicates that the construction of Nan Madol began around 1200 A.D., however, excavations show that the area may have been occupied as early as 200 BC. Some probable quarry sites around the island have been identified, but the exact origin of the stones of Nan Madol is yet undetermined. None of the proposed quarry sites exist in Madolenihmw, meaning that the stones must have been transported to their current location. It has been suggested that they might have been floated via raft from the quarry, but no one has successfully demonstrated the process. Archaeologists have yet to unravel the mystery, and some modern Pohnpeians believe the stones were flown to the island by use of black magic.

An intriguing aspect of Nan Madol is the close correlation between the oral history of the site, passed down through the centuries, and evidence unearthed during archaeological excavations.

In 1985, the ruins of Nan Madol were declared an historical landmark and a greater effort is being made to preserve them. Permission for a visit is necessary and a small fee is charged, but it's quite easy to get access to the site.

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