Sunday, May 4, 2014

History Mystery: Nan Madol – A Ruined City

Nan Madol
Photo credit: Jeff
Nan Madol is a ruined city which lies off the eastern shore of the island of Pohnpei and is presently one of the four states in the Federated States of Micronesia that used to be the capital of the Saudeleur dynasty till 1500 AD.

The city constructed in a lagoon comprises of small artificial islands which are joined together by a network of canals and often called the Venice of the Pacific and the name Nan Madol which means `spaces between’, is referred to the canals which criss-cross the ruins.

A local story relates that when Nan Madol was being built, a powerful magician who lived in the well had inhabited the region on the northwest of the island and had helped in completing the building and was in fact responsible in supplying the huge stone logs used in Nan Madol which was done by flying them from their source to the construction site.

Though this tale is treated as a legend rather than history by some archaeologist, the story accounts for the fact that the major population centre seemed to be on the opposite side of the island from Nan Madol besides which the type of stones used in the construction was not found nearby.

Ceremonial and Political Seat of Saudeleur Dynasty

Nan Madol  1
Credit: David
It was the ceremonial as well as the political seat of the Saudeleur dynasty uniting Pohnpei’s estimated population of 25,000 inhabitants till 1628. Placed between the main island of Pohnpei and Temwen Islands, it is a part of human activity from the early as the first or second century CE.Towards the 8th or 9th century, islet had begun though the distinctive megalithic architecture had not begun till the 12th or early 13th century.

According to Phnpeian legend, Nan Madol seemed to be constructed by twin sorcerers, Olishipa and Olosohpa from the mythical Western Katau or Kanamwayso. The two brothers had arrived in a huge canoe in search of a place to buildalter where they could worship Nahnisohn Sahpw who was the god of agriculture where they managed to build one, off the Temwem Island and performed their rituals there.

An Archaeological District

Nan Madol 2
Presently Nan Madol is an archaeological district covering over 18 km including the stone architecture built up on a coral reef along the Shore of Temwen Island with several other artificial islets together with the adjacent Phnpei main island coastline.

The site with its stone walls covers an area of around 1.5 km long by 0.5 km wide containing almost 100 artificial islets, stone and coral filled platforms which are bordered by tidal canals. Carbon dating shows that the Nan Madol construction began around 1200 CE and the excavation indicates that the area could have been occupied early in 200 BC.

Some quarry sites around the island have been identified though the exact origin of the stones of Nan Madol is not known. In the year 1985, the ruins of Nan Madol were declared a National Historical Landmark and presently great effort are being carried out in order to preserve them.

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