A previously undocumented indigenous petroglyph was found by tourists in Hawaii.
A previously undocumented indigenous petroglyph was found by tourists in Hawaii. (Photo: Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources)

In the push to uncover mysteries about our ancient world, sometimes all an archaeologist needs to do is wait for the right weather conditions.

That’s exactly what happened when tourists Lonnie Watson and Mark Louviere spotted some unusual markings along the Waianae coast of Oahu, Hawaii. A closer look revealed that it was a large petrolyph of a stick figure human etched into a hunk of sandstone. It had been uncovered by the shoreline's shifting sands.

"Upon further investigation, they discovered at least 10 figures, stretching over roughly 60 feet of beach," according to a statement by Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), the agency that was called out to investigate the petroglyphs.

Watson describes the discovery of the petroglyphs as a "stroke of luck."
Lonnie Watson describes the discovery of the petroglyphs as a 'stroke of luck.' (Photo: Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources)

The petroglyphs are believed to have been carved by ancient aboriginal inhabitants of the area. There are other examples of these designs elsewhere in the area, though this is the first time they've been documented along a shoreline. While the artists of these petroglyphs are no longer around, their descendants still live in the area.

"They record our genealogy and religion," says Glen Kila, an aboriginal descendent and director of Waianae's Hawaiian Culture Center. "It’s very important to know about the lineal descendants of the area and their understanding of these petroglyphs. The interpretation of these petroglyphs can only be interpreted by the lineal descendants who are familiar with its history and culture."

Waves have already begun washing sand over the rare markings.
Waves have already begun washing sand over the rare markings. (Photo: Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources)

While the petroglyphs were a rare wonder to witness and document, it took only a matter of days before the movements of the ocean obscured them with sand once again. Even so, they remain active in the minds of the people who are tasked with protecting such historically significant treasures.

"We’re eager [to develop] a protection and preservation plan for these petroglyphs," the DLNR explains. "They are an important part of Hawaii’s culture and while sands have covered them again, in time they will reappear and we want to make sure people know that they are fragile and culturally sensitive and should only be viewed; not touched.”

Revealing more of Mother Nature's secrets

Sunken forest of Borth
All that remains of Cantre' Gwaelod is solidified peat and remarkably preserved tree stumps. (Photo: yrhenwr/Flickr)

These Hawaiian petroglyphs are just one example of what shifting sands can reveal about humanity of eons past. Several years ago, the remains of a sunken forest dating back thousands of years was uncovered by violent storms along the western coast of Wales.

The prehistoric forest, which was once inhabited by humans, is believed to be the mythical kingdom of Cantre'r Gwaelod (also known as the " Welsh Atlantis"). Before the forest was finally swallowed up by the rising tides, it had enjoyed a brief time as an alkalinity-rich peat bog, which is how the wood has been so remarkably preserved.

This mythical forest isn't the only thing that has been unearthed by natural forces in Great Britain. In 2013, fossils of an ichtyosaurus were uncovered by an especially violent storm in nearby Dorset, England.

Of course, sometimes a change in weather can unleash some not-so-pleasant ancient relics — like the deadly anthrax outbreak that's wreaking havoc on a remote Siberian community thanks to a heat wave that is thawing permafrost in a big way.

Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.