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Tech & Science Growing Evidence Says People on Easter Island Were Still Okay When Europeans Landed

00:00  15 february  2020
00:00  15 february  2020 Source:   sciencealert.com

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" Easter Island 's ancient society was sustainable despite limited resources and isolation," says anthropologist and archaeologist Terry Hunt As the palm trees disappeared, sustenance dwindled, and warfare broke out on Easter Island , the arrival of Europeans may have been the last straw.

Geologically one of the youngest inhabited territories on Earth, Easter Island , located in the mid-Pacific Ocean, was , for most of its history, one of the most isolated.

a flock of seagulls are standing in the dark© Thomas Griggs/Unsplash

The mystery of Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, is often told as a "parable of self-destruction", a cautionary tale of human exploitation and 'ecocide'. When the last tree falls, so does humanity - or so the story goes.

It's a narrative that's been repeated many times and is often treated as fact, but in recent years, evidence has been mounting to suggest the people of Rapa Nui are incorrectly blamed for their own demise.

New research suggests these islanders were building platforms for the iconic Moai statues up until at least 1750, well beyond the society's hypothesised collapse around 1600 and up to and beyond the later arrival of foreign seafarers.

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EASTER ISLAND — This remote speck in the South Pacific is famous for its colossal stone statues The puzzle arises because when Jacob Roggeveen discovered the island ( on Easter Day, 1722 European explorers compounded the suffering in the 18th and 19th centuries by bringing disease and

When Europeans "discovered" the island during Easter in 1722, there was not a single tree to be seen. Islander Uri Avaka Teao says the quest "It was almost a disaster - to force the people to make their statues so they forgot everything: to go to catch food, to catch fish from the ocean, or to grow

"The general thinking has been that the society that Europeans saw when they first showed up was one that had collapsed," says anthropologist Robert DiNapoli from the University of Orego.

"Our conclusion is that monument-building and investment were still important parts of their lives when these visitors arrived."

Radiocarbon dating on 11 of the island's 150 stone platforms - known locally as 'ahu' - has directly challenged traditional components of the collapse narrative.

Polynesians are thought to have first colonised Easter Island sometime between the late 12th and early 13th centuries; according to the new findings, construction on the stone monuments began roughly fifty years later.

Focusing on the few monuments with good chronological data, the authors claim between the mid 14th and 15th century, there was a rapid period of ahu construction, followed by a relatively slower period of construction through the 18th century.

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Easter Island is one big archaeological site with moai, petroglyphs, and When planning our trip to Easter Island , I instinctually felt that we should spend 4 days there. Anakena is an important piece of Easter Island ’s history, being the spot where the first Polynesian colonizers landed their boats about

But research published yesterday says the population was actually decimated by the arrival of Europeans - who brought syphilis, smallpox and Some scientists estimate that at its height, Easter Island 's population may have been as much as 20,000 people . Some experts believe the fertile land

In fact, one of the stone platforms analysed may have even been built as late as 1825, some 600 years after the island was first colonised.

While this is on the extreme end of the estimate, even if the general outline is right, it means Easter Islanders were putting in the time and effort to build these resource-expensive monuments long after their society is said to have collapsed.

"Easter Island's ancient society was sustainable despite limited resources and isolation," says anthropologist and archaeologist Terry Hunt from the University of Arizona.

"The islanders even continued their astonishing investments in monuments following the devastating impacts of European contact."

Historical records also support this idea. The first Dutch seafarers who arrived on the island in 1722 reported seeing locals carrying out rituals in front of the Moai statues, and in 1770, Spanish explorers witnessed something similar.

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Easter Island is critically vulnerable to rising ocean levels. Centuries ago, Easter Island ’s civilization collapsed, but the statues left behind here are a reminder of how powerful it must have been . As the population grew , the island went from forested to barren. Europeans arrived with new diseases.

“What we can say is , at the time where those individuals lived that we tested, Native American ancestry was not distributed through the population of Rapa After a public outcry, the slavers were forced to return some of these people to Easter Island , though they came back with diseases and at one point

But then, a mere four years later, when British explorer James Cook sailed ashore, he and his crew found the monuments overturned.

Today, the true reason for the collapse of the Rapa Nui society is hotly debated, but over the years some have conceded that Europeans may have played a role in the matter, or, at the very least, were responsible for "finishing it off".

As the palm trees disappeared, sustenance dwindled, and warfare broke out on Easter Island, the arrival of Europeans may have been the last straw.

Still, even in the beginning, this was hardly a clean and simple case of 'ecocide'. Recent research suggests the forests on Rapa Nui might have disappeared much quicker than we thought, too rapidly for humans to achieve on their own, and it might have had something to do with an influx of hungry misplaced rats.

And then, of course, there were other humans. Even in a remote corner of the Pacific, Rapa Nui were not safe from rodent stowaways or strangers.

In the 1800s, South American slave raids took away as much as half of the island's native population, and by 1877, following decades of disease, destruction and enforced migration, only 111 Rapa Nui remained.

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But the art of Easter Island still looms on the horizon of the human imagination. Over the past few decades, archaeologists have assembled evidence that the first settlers came from Estimates of when people first reached the island are as varied, ranging from the first to the sixth century A.D

Whatever happened on Easter Island , it wasn't good. Polynesians landed there, farmed, thrived, built their famous Probably, the professors say , from sexually transmitted diseases after Europeans came visiting. On Easter Island , people learned to live with less and forgot what it was like to have more.

"Once Europeans arrive on the island, there are many documented tragic events due to disease, murder, slave raiding and other conflicts," says anthropologist Carl Lipo from Binghamton University in New York.

"These events are entirely extrinsic to the islanders and have, undoubtedly, devastating effects."

In other words, the people of Rapa Nui may have been no more responsible for their own demise than any other indigenous society devastated by white settlers and explorers.

In light of accumulating evidence, both historical and physical, archaeologist Catrine Jarman from the University of Bristol claims Easter Island's societal collapse is not so much a mystery as it is a misconception.

"Perhaps, then, the takeaway from Rapa Nui should not be a story of ecocide and a Malthusian population collapse," she wrote for The Conversation in 2017.

"Instead, it should be a lesson in how sparse evidence, a fixation with 'mysteries', and a collective amnesia for historic atrocities caused a sustainable and surprisingly well-adapted population to be falsely blamed for their own demise."

The study was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Wallaby rescued after 6km ocean swim .
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