Map to a lost city

I’m sure you remember the scene in the Samoan Pyramid where Noah – the old surfer dude – shows me a hand-drawn map and points me in the direction of the pyramid. At the time I wasn’t certain if Noah was telling me the truth or if he was simply spinning a wild yarn. It turns out I needn’t have worried.

I spent this past weekend in the University of Auckland Library. I was searching for a copy of the map Noah had shown me, and that’s what I want to share with you today.
I found this – in the Journal of the Polynesian Society – from an expedition to Savai’i in 1976. The same year that Noah told me he got his copy of the map. I’m convinced they must have come from the same source.


Pulemelei Map of a Lost City

The map shows an ancient city, bounded by two rivers, somewhere in the South Eastern corner of Savai’i. Pulemelei – the Samoan Pyramid – is the big dark block near the top left corner of the map.

This map becomes even more interesting when you consider it in context. When you overlay the map onto Google Earth you can begin to get a sense for just how massive the ancient city was. It is many orders of magnitude larger than any town that exists on the island today.

New Technology leads to New Discoveries

This old 1976 map, as wonderful as it is, doesn’t tell us the whole story. News coming out from Samoa these past few months confirms the existence of the ancient city. And what’s more, the city is even bigger than we ever imagined.
For the first time, archaeologists in Savai’i have been able to use LIDAR technology to map the ancient site. LIDAR works in much the same way as Radar, but uses light from a laser, instead of sound waves. This has allowed the scientists to ‘see’ parts of the ancient city that were previously inaccessible to them. And the results are remarkable. Old roads, ancient starmounds and whole abandoned villages, lost in the jungles of Savai’i.
Lidar Image of the ancient city
The research raises some troubling questions. The overwhelming scale of the ancient city suggests a once thriving population. Who lived here? And what happened to them?

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