Saturday, February 28, 2015

Nanmadol, Pohnpei Federated States of Micronesia

Where is Pohnpei?

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Pohnpei  is the name of an island of the Senyavin Islands which are part of the larger Caroline Islands group. It belongs to Pohnpei State, one of the four states in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). Palikir, the FSM's capital, is located on Pohnpei Island. Pohnpei Island is the largest, highest, most populous, and most developed single island in the FSM. The islanders of Pohnpei have a reputation as being the most welcoming of outsiders among residents of the island group.

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Pohnpei is roughly square in shape; it is well watered and hilly (rising to Dolohmwar, 2,595 feet [791 metres] above sea level) and is surrounded by a barrier reef with many small islets. Its fertile soil and heavy rainfall result in luxuriant tropical foliage, and the island has been called the “garden of Micronesia.” It has mangrove swamps along its coasts and rainforests in the central hilly area. Situated near Pohnpei are the low-lying coral atolls Oroluk, Pakin, and Ant to the west; Ngatik, Nukuoro, and Kapingamarangi to the southwest; and Mokil and Pingelap to the east. Most of the coral atolls are wooded and support coconut palms. The people of the island and its surrounding atolls, with the exception of the Polynesian inhabitants of Nukuoro and Kapingamarangi, are Micronesians.

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Though Pohnpei was much visited by whalers and traders, it was not until the mid-19th century that Christian missionaries established schools there. Spanish administration was followed by German possession after 1898. The Germans promoted the production of copra. After World War I, Japan was given mandate over Micronesia under the League of Nations, and Pohnpei was made one of the administrative centres. During World War II Pohnpei’s Japanese garrison was bypassed by the Allies and isolated prior to its surrender. The island was part of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands from 1947 until the dissolution of the Trust Territory in 1986.

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Pohnpei yields a wide variety of tropical products, including copra, breadfruit, taro, trochus shells, and cacao. Rice is grown, pigs and poultry are raised, and fish are caught. The main coastal villages are Kolonia, Madolenihmw, and Rohnkiti. Pohnpei has an international airport and is the site of the College of Micronesia-FSM. Palikir, near Kolonia, is the capital of the Federated States of Micronesia. Total land area 129 square miles (334.1 square km). Pop. (2010) island, 36,196.

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What is Nanmadol?

In the lagoon on the eastern coast of Pohnpei is Nan Madol, or Nanmadol, a group of 92 prehistoric artificial platform islands built in the lagoon and surrounded by man-made canals. Ruins of a town and ceremonial centre of the early 2nd millennium ce include tombs of former kings, belonging, according to tradition, to the Sau Deleur dynasty that once ruled the whole island.The name Nan Madol means "spaces between" and is a reference to the canals that crisscross the ruins. The original name was Soun Nan-leng (Reef of Heaven), according to Gene Ashby in his book Pohnpei, An Island Argosy.It is often called the "Venice of the Pacific".

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Nan Madol was the ceremonial and political seat of the Saudeleur dynasty, which united Pohnpei's estimated 25,000 people until about 1628. Set apart between the main island of Pohnpei and Temwen Island, it was a scene of human activity as early as the first or second century CE. By the 8th or 9th century islet construction had started, but the distinctive megalithic architecture was probably not begun until perhaps the 12th or early 13th century.

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Little can be verified about the megalithic construction. Pohnpeian tradition claims that the builders of the Lelu complex on Kosrae (likewise composed of huge stone buildings) migrated to Pohnpei, where they used their skills and experience to build the even more impressive Nan Madol complex. However, this is unlikely: radiocarbon dating indicates that Nan Madol predates Lelu. Like Lelu, one major purpose of constructing a separate city was to insulate the nobility from the common people.

 

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According to Pohnpeian legend, Nan Madol was constructed by twin sorcerers Olisihpa and Olosohpa from the mythical Western Katau, or Kanamwayso. The brothers arrived in a large canoe seeking a place to build an altar so that they could worship Nahnisohn Sahpw, the god of agriculture. After several false starts, the two brothers successfully built an altar off Temwen Island, where they performed their rituals. In legend, these brothers levitated the huge stones with the aid of a flying dragon. When Olisihpa died of old age, Olosohpa became the first Saudeleur. Olosohpa married a local woman and sired twelve generations, producing sixteen other Saudeleur rulers of the Dipwilap ("Great") clan. The founders of the dynasty ruled kindly, though their successors placed ever increasing demands on their subjects. Their reign ended with the invasion by Isokelekel, who also resided at Nan Madol, though his successors abandoned the site.

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Today Nan Madol forms an archaeological district covering more than 18 km² 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.

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Carbon dating indicates that the construction of Nan Madol began around 1200 CE, while excavations show that the area may have been occupied as early as 200 BCE. 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.

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It has been suggested that they might have been floated via raft from the quarry, and a short dive between the island and the quarries shows a trail of dropped stones. However, no one has successfully demonstrated or explained the process. Some modern Pohnpeians believe the stones were flown to the island by use of black magic.In 1985 the ruins of Nan Madol were declared a National Historical Landmark. Currently, a greater effort is being made to preserve them.

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Longyou caves, China

Longyou Caves are a series of large artificial caverns located at Phoenix Hill, near the village of Shiyan Beicun on the Lan River in Longyou County, Quzhou prefecture, Zhejiang province, China.

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In June, 1992, a villager named Wu Anai, decided to pump the water out in one of the locally known caves revealing the first of many man-made caves in the region.  After 17 days pumping, enough water had been removed to reveal the cave including several carved stelae, thus confirming his idea that they were not natural reservoirs at all, but rather man-made. The floor of the grotto occupies more than 2,000 square meters, with the tallest point of the cave exceeding 30 meters. The four steles of cave 1 are symmetrically distributed. Following this discovery, he continued to pump out another four caves only to find that they all bore the same markings on the walls and ceilings.They are considered by Chinese to be the 'Ninth Wonder of the Ancient World'

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How were they constructed?

A rough estimation of the workload involved in building these five caves is awe-inspiring. The quantity of rock that would have been removed in the overall excavation of the grottoes is estimated to be nearly 1,000,000 cubic meters. Taking into account the average digging rate per day per person, scientists have calculated that it would take 1,000 people working day and night for six years to complete.  These calculations are based purely on hard labour, but what they haven’t taken into account is the incredible care and precision of the sculptors, meaning that the actual workload would far surpass the theoretical estimation.  As for how they were constructed and what tools were used, it is still unknown. No tools have been found in the area, and, as we will explore later, scientists still don’t know how they achieved such symmetry, precision, and similarity between the different caves.

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 No traces of construction Despite their size and the effort involved in creating them, so far no trace of their construction or even their existence has been located in the historic record.  Although the overall excavation involved almost a million cubic metres of stone, there is no archaeological evidence revealing where that quantity of stone went, and no evidence of the work. Moreover, there is not a single historic document that refers to them, which is highly unusual considering the sheer scale of the project.  Their origin is a complete and utter mystery. 

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How did the caves remain so well preserved?
One of the most interesting and challenging questions is how the caves have been able to keep their structural integrity for more than 2000 years.  There are no signs of collapse, no piles of rubble, and no damage despite the fact that in some areas the walls are only 50 centimetres thick.  Over the centuries, the area has gone through numerous floods, calamities and wars, the mountains have changed their appearance and exposed stones have been weathered, but inside the caves, the form, patterns and markings are still clear and precise – it is as though they were built yesterday.

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How did the builders work in the dark?
Due to the great depths of the caves, some areas at the bottom, which are not exposed to the opening above, are pitch-black. Yet even those dark areas are decorated with thousands of parallel lines on the walls, columns, and ceiling.  So how did the ancient people work in the dark?   According to Jia Gang, a Tongji University professor specializing in civil engineering: "There should be lamps, because the cave's mouth is very small, and the sunbeam could only shine in the cave at a certain angle during a certain period of time. As one goes deeper into the cave, the light becomes dimmer. At the cave's bottom, which is usually dozen of meters from the mouth, one could hardly see anything." However, this was at least two millennia ago and nothing that could have been used for lighting has been found.

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Were the caves meant to be connected?
All of the 36 grottoes are distributed across an area of only one square kilometre. Considering such a high density, one cannot help asking whether some grottoes were meant to be connected.  What would be the purpose of making so many separate caves in such a tight area without connecting them? In many areas, the walls between the caves are very thin, only 50 centimetres, but they were never linked so it appears they were intentionally kept apart.  What’s more, many of the caves are almost identical to each other.

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Who built them? Nobody has any idea who built the caves. Some scientists have claimed that it was not possible or logical for such as mammoth job to have been undertaken by regular village people. Only the emperor and the leaders could have organised such a huge project, like the construction of the Great Wall, which was built to defend against invasion from the outside. But if it was commissioned by an Emperor, why are there no historical records of its construction?

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