The mystery of Easter Island endures amid debate
2011 04 27

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

Water rationing hits California: limit of 50 gallons per person per day or face fines of $500
2014 09 29
Millions of Californians are about to be hit with strict water rationing -- daily "allocation" numbers that represent the maximum amount of water youíre allowed to use for any purpose. Households that exceed the allocation limit will face stiff fines of hundreds of dollars per violation. "In July, the State Water Resources Control Board passed stage one emergency regulations, giving powers ...
Much of Earthís Water is Older than the Sun
2014 09 29
Much of the water on Earth and elsewhere in the solar system likely predates the birth of the sun, a new study reports. The finding suggests that water is commonly incorporated into newly forming planets throughout the Milky Way galaxy and beyond, researchers said ó good news for anyone hoping that Earth isnít the only world to host life. ďThe implications of ...
Did the Vikings Get a Bum Rap?
2014 09 29
A Yale historian wants us to rethink the terrible tales about the Norse. This illustration shows the stereotype of Viking marauders wreaking mayhem, even on clergy. The scene depicts the monastery at Clonmacnoise, Ireland. The Vikings gave no quarter when they stormed the city of Nantes, in what is now western France, in June 843ónot even to the monks barricaded in the ...
David Cameron Says Non-Violent Conspiracy Theorists Are Just As Dangerous As ISIS
2014 09 29
David Cameron told the U.N. that "non-violent extremism" is just as dangerous as terrorism and must be eradicated using all means at the governmentís disposal. He references 9/11 and 7/7 Truthers as examples of the type of extremism that must be dealt in a similar fashion to ISIS. If you thought Obamaís War is Peace speech to the U.N. was creepy, ...
NY Times: Europeís Anti-Semitism Comes Out of the Shadows
2014 09 28
NY Times Whines about European "Anti-Semitism" In the wake of the conflict in Gaza, three communities became flash points of violence and began contending with hatred they thought was buried in the past. Read the NY Times hit piece on Europe here Below is a rebuttal from Mike Kingís The Anti-New York Times at tomatobubble.com: Strike up the violins and break out the barf ...
More News Ľ