Archeologists are studying 600-year-old ruins on Hawaii’s Big Island, uncovering earthen berms that offer clues to how ancient Hawaiians lived before contact with European settlers.

Ohio State University anthropologist Julie Field has partnered with researchers from California and New Zealand to study the remnants of an agricultural gridwork that dates back nearly 600 years. The earthen berms served as windbreaks to protect the crops.

The network is similar to Europe’s historic feudal system where a portion of any crop surplus was always designated for the local chiefs, the researchers said.

“This suggests to us that the field system was originally put in place probably by individual households that produced crops for their own consumption,” Field said. “It was then appropriated by the chiefs and turned into more of a surplus production system, where they demanded that the land be put into production and more people would produce more surplus food.”

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