The mystery of Easter Island endures amid debate
2011-04-27 0:00

By Paul Rodgers | Independent.co.uk



A scientific battle over the fate of Easter Islandís 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 donít 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 islandís 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.

The Rapa Nui culture, Dr Lipo says, was wiped out after Europeans arrived, bringing epidemics of sexually transmitted diseases, TB, dysentery and leprosy. Illness, enslavement and land theft reduced the population from an estimated 3,000 to just 111 by 1877.

In their new book, The Statues that Walked: Unravelling the Mystery of Easter Island, to be published in June, Dr Lipo and Professor Hunt present their evidence that Polynesian colonists arrived in 1200, up to 800 years later than the conventional theory claims, and immediately modified the environment with slash-and-burn agriculture.

The effect this had on the giant palm forest was magnified by the rats that arrived with them. The rodent population, feeding extensively on palm seeds, exploded.

Dr Lipo argues that deforestation didnít make things much worse for humans. Rapa Nui was no tropical paradise. Itís an old volcanic island and many of the nutrients in the soil had already been washed away. Burning the giant palms actually helped, but the settlers soon turned to a technique called stone mulching, in which freshly broken volcanic rocks are planted in the poor soil to add nutrients and cut down on erosion.

The same people who used rock mulching and greeted the Dutch could have moved the moai from Rano Raraku, the quarry where they were carved, to the shore, he says. The statues seem designed to allow small groups of men to move them by rocking them, as you would a refrigerator.

Similar suggestions have been made in the past, but experiments indicated that the moai would have been worn away by the time they got to the coast. Dr Lipo, aided by anthropologist Sergio Rapu, the islandís first native governor under Chilean rule, thinks he has found a way around this, with more rocking and less shuffling.

Defenders of the old theory are not taking this lying down. The British archaeologist Paul Bahn and his co-author John Flenley are bringing out a third edition of The Enigmas of Easter Island with a response to the upstarts. "Theyíre ignoring the oral tradition and just cherry-picking the data they like," he said at the weekend, adding that he has no doubt that the islanders suffered a prehistoric collapse. "They were cutting off their nose to spite their face," he said.


Article from: independent.co.uk





Related Articles
Museum pieces displayed for the first time - Giant Lemur, Easter Island Artifact (Video)
Easter Islandís population doubles for solar eclipse
Attenborough Explains Easter Island (Video)
Fountain Of Youth Found On Easter Island?
Easter Island: the futureís not set in stone
Giant statues reveal red hat secrets: study


Latest News from our Front Page

The Unsafe Child: Less Outdoor Play is Causing More Harm than Good
2015-09-02 0:39
The third grade classroom that was visiting our nature center for the day consisted of mostly boys–rowdy, loud and rambunctious boys. As we started out into the woods, the children spoke loudly to each other in anticipation of what was to come. After playing a quick game and explaining the ground rules, it was time for free play. As soon ...
Rights group demand police need warrant to access data
2015-09-01 23:48
American citizens should be able to rest safe in the knowledge that no one has the right to pry into their digital records, where they have been and how long they stayed there. The Supreme Court has just received a brief from the Electronic Frontier Federation (EFF) stating that this should certainly be the case. However, in the case of Davis v. ...
Murder Rates Rising Sharply in Many U.S. Cities
2015-09-01 23:33
Cities across the nation are seeing a startling rise in murders after years of declines, and few places have witnessed a shift as precipitous as this city [Milwaukee]. With the summer not yet over, 104 people have been killed this year‚Äďafter 86 homicides in all of 2014. More than 30 other cities have also reported increases in violence from a year ...
Bulgaria - Islamic State Terrorists Caught Crossing Into Europe Posing As Refugees
2015-09-01 23:47
Bulgarian authorities near the Gyueshevo border checkpoint detained the five men, aged between 20 and 24, late on Wednesday, Bulgarian broadcaster NOVA TV reported. The men were stopped by a border guard, who they attempted to bribe with a “wad of dollars.” However, they were searched and Islamic State propaganda, specific Jihadists prayers and decapitation videos were found on their phones. In ...
How This NY Mom Made the Case for Her Son’s Religious Vaccine Exemption
2015-09-01 22:27
An unidentified, Russian immigrant mother who practices the Russian Orthodox faith, has secured a religious vaccine exemption for her autistic son. New York has a bill on the table to eliminate religious exemption and to root out those who weren’t refusing vaccines on strictly devout, religious grounds. Yet, this woman’s plight goes back before talk of eliminating the exemption – two ...
More News »