From 1996 to 2003, IARII conducted archaeological survey, data recovery, and monitoring investigations in support of construction of the Compact Road on the island of Babeldaob, Republic of Palau. Work on the 85 km long road encircling this island in the Western Carolines of Micronesia was under the auspices of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Oral history documentation and paleoenvironmental coring supplemented the project’s field investigations. Gathering the stories and histories of mythological, symbolic, and ancestral significance to sites in the road corridor preserved some of Palau’s rich oral traditions. Eight wetland cores were examined to obtain information concerning past environmental conditions (both climate and vegetation) and prehistoric settlement, agriculture, and land use.
The most conspicuous prehistoric sites along the road corridor are the massive earthworks sculpted from ridges and hills. Construction of these ubiquitous and morphologically complex earthworks began slightly more than 2000 years ago. Terraces were primarily symbolic markers of power, but they also functioned as agricultural fields, defensive sites, burial grounds, habitation locations, and religious centers.
Also in the road corridor are abandoned traditional villages characterized by stonework architecture. At the center of the village’s stone platforms, paths, water wells, bathing places, and docks is the men’s meeting house or bai.
Only in the case of the bai does stonework form a foundation for a superstructure; the majority of the platforms served as burial places for high-ranking clan members.
Associated with villages, terraces, as well as strewn along ridgelines are scatters of prehistoric pottery sherds. Whole pots, some painted with wide orange bands, are occasionally unearthed.
Stone heads, such as this one in Melekeok village, are usually located in the hills away from the villages. When they were made and their purpose is unknown.