Dr. Mara Mulrooney, assistant anthropologist at Bishop Museum in Honululu, conducted a six year study on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) concerning the island’s theoretical civilisation collapse. Her findings now challenge these previous ideas, which have claimed that the islanders “self-destructed” before Europeans first visited in 1722.
Results from her doctoral dissertation are published in the December issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.
As popularised in Jared Diamond’s 2005 book Collapse, Rapa Nui is often viewed as a prime example of what happens when people lose sight of what they are doing to their environment. According to the popular narrative, the Rapa Nui people committed “environmental suicide” by deforesting their island home. However, Dr. Mulrooney and colleagues are starting to construct a more positive scenario. Read more.
The inhabitants of Easter Island consumed a diet that was lacking in seafood and was, literally, quite ratty.
The island, also called Rapa Nui, first settled around A.D. 1200, is famous for its more than 1,000 “walking” Moai statues, most of which originally faced inland. Located in the South Pacific, Rapa Nui is the most isolated inhabited landmass on Earth; the closest inhabitants are located on the Pitcairn Islands about 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) to the west.
To determine the diet of its past inhabitants, researchers analyzed the nitrogen and carbon isotopes, or atoms of an element with different numbers of neutrons, from the teeth (specifically the dentin) of 41 individuals whose skeletons had been previously excavated on the island. Read more.
An idea suggesting massive stone statues that encircle Easter Island may have been “walked” into place has run into controversy.
In October 2012, researchers came up with the “walking” theory by creating a 5-ton replica of one of the statues (or “moai”), and actually moving it in an upright position, and have published a more thorough justification in the June issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science. If the statues were walked into place, then the islanders didn’t need to cut down the island’s palm trees to make way for moving the massive carvings, the researchers argue.
The findings may help dismantle the traditional storyline of Easter Island, or Rapa Nui: that a “crazed maniacal group destroyed their environment,” by cutting down trees to transport gigantic statues, said study co-author Carl Lipo, an anthropologist at California State University, Long Beach. Read more.
A team of archaeologists from the University of Southampton have used the latest in digital imaging technology to record and analyse carvings on the Easter Island statue Hoa Hakananai’a.
James Miles, Hembo Pagi and Dr Graeme Earl from the Archaeological Computing Research Group at the University of Southampton teamed up with archaeologist and editor of British Archaeology Mike Pitts to examine the statue at the Wellcome Trust Gallery in the British Museum, London.
Dr Earl explains: “The Hoa Hakananai’a statue has rarely been studied at first hand by archaeologists, but developments in digital imaging technology have now allowed us to examine it in unprecedented detail.” Read more.
Were the giant statues on Easter Island actually “walked” to their final resting spots?
Researchers have unveiled a new theory that may redefine the historical understanding of how natives on Easter Island transported the iconic moai statues.
Writing in July’s issue of National Geographic magazine, California State University at Long Beach archeologist Carl Lipo and Hawaii anthropologist Terry Hunt postulate that Polynesian natives used a system of ropes and manpower to walk the statues across the island.
"A lot of what people think they know about the island turns out to be not true," Lipo says.
Using the ropes, islanders would stand on each side of the statues, swaying them back and forth to create the walking effect. Read more.
South Americans helped colonise Easter Island centuries before Europeans reached it. Clear genetic evidence has, for the first time, given support to elements of this controversial theory showing that while the remote island was mostly colonised from the west, there was also some influx of people from the Americas.
Easter Island is the easternmost island of Polynesia, the scattering of islands that stretches across the Pacific. It is also one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world.
So how did it come to be inhabited in the first place? Genetics, archaeology and linguistics all show that as a whole, Polynesia was colonized from Asia, probably from around Taiwan. The various lines of evidence suggest people began migrating east around 5500 years ago, reached Polynesia 2500 years later, before finally gaining Easter Island after another 1500 years. Read more.
A scientific battle over the fate of Easter Island’s natives is ready to erupt this summer with the publication of a book challenging the notion that their Neolithic society committed ecological suicide.
The debate has a modern political dimension. At stake is the central example, cited by Jared Diamond in his 2005 book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, of the dire consequences that threaten if humans don’t take care of the planet.
The archaeological argument revolves around the moai, hundreds of stone statues that line the coast of the now treeless South Pacific island, known to its inhabitants as Rapa Nui.
The almost-naked natives discovered by a Dutch expedition on Easter Sunday 1722 were considered too impoverished to have carved and moved the statues themselves.
The accepted theory is that a more advanced civilisation, numbering some 15,000 people, must have erected the statues, with hundreds of men hauling them to the shore and whole industries devoted to making ropes, rollers and sledges while the rest struggled to feed the workers.
After the last of the island’s giant palm trees was felled, the theory suggests, its ecology collapsed, food production crashed, and civil war ensued, leading eventually to cannibalism, with the remnants of the population left to eke out an existence until the Dutch arrived.
But the revisionists, led by archaeologists Carl Lipo of California State University and Terry Hunt of the University of Hawaii, argue that this superior society never existed. Read more.