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Pulemelei Mound - the largest ancient structure in Polynesia
PALAULI, LETOLO PLANTATION, SAMOA

Although its original purpose and the identity of its creators remain mysteries, the pyramid-like Pulemelei Mound is the largest ancient structure in Polynesia. Built on a stone base 65 by 60 meters square that appears to have been oriented to the cardinal directions, the earthen superstructure of the mound now rises 12 meters high over the island of Savai’’i, which is considered by some to be the cradle of Polynesian civilization. Settlements dating to ca. A.D. 1000––1600 are associated with the site, but the actual date of its construction is unknown.

The Pulemelei Mound is a very important monument to the people of Savai’’i and attracts the interest of many visitors to Samoa, but is being swallowed by the jungle and is difficult to see when surrounding vegetation has not been recently cleared. Its earthen superstructure is especially susceptible to erosion and weathering, and its stone components are also unstable and subject to rock falls.

A long-term plan for maintenance of the site and an interpretation program for visitors has been proposed and listing will hopefully provide greater exposure for this enigmatic Polynesian monument.
On the island of Savai’i you can find Polynesia’s largest ancient structure, the Pulemelei Mound. The Lonely Planet guide for Samoa describes it:

This large pyramid measures 61 metres by 50 metres at the base and rises in two tiers to a height of more than 12 metres. It is almost squarely oriented with the compass directions…. Smaller mounds and platforms are found in four directions away from the main structure. There is a relatively large platform about 40 metres north of the main pyramid and connected to it by a stone walkway.

Unfortunately the jungle there is almost uncontrollable. The pyramid has been cleared on several occasions, but when I studied it in 1996 it was overgrown and difficult to locate. So much so, that it was only when I kicked a stone embedded in the top platform did I realise I had found it! The bottom right corner of the photo is the pyramid.

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Pyramid in Samoa
Mound is on the bottom corner.

On the island of Savai'i you can find Polynesia's largest ancient structure, the Pulemelei Mound.? This large pyramid measures 61 metres by 50 metres at the base and rises in two tiers to a height of more than 12 metres.? It is almost squarely oriented with the compass directions?.?

Smaller mounds and platforms are found in four directions away from the main structure.? There is a relatively large platform about 40 metres north of the main pyramid and connected to it by a stone walkway. Unfortunately the jungle there is almost uncontrollable.

The pyramid has been cleared on several occasions, but the mound tends to get overgrown.?


Pulemelei 2002 after clearing.
Clearing the mound was a massive task that took a team of 20 robust Samoans (and two feeble academics) three weeks to remove the vegetation and trees that had completely covered the mound. (Photo captions: Pulemelei 2002 before (above) and after (below) clearing.) Mapping such a large structure was also time consuming, requiring more than 700 survey points to complete.

The 2002 map of Pulemelei will be compared to one made in 1965 to track any deterioration in the mound, and to identify, and potentially aid in the reconstruction of, damaged areas. Excavations at the site, although preliminary, were very successful, with carbon recovered from sealed ovens (umu) and from within the main platform.

Several pot sherds were also recovered — representing the first discovery of pottery on Savai’i. Further work at the site is planned in 2003."

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