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Did humans devastate Easter Island on arrival?
New Scientist ^ | 9 March 2006 | Bob Holmes

Posted on 03/10/2006 4:17:24 AM PST by S0122017

Did humans devastate Easter Island on arrival? 19:00 09 March 2006 Bob Holmes

Early settlers to the remote Easter Island stripped the island’s natural resources to erect towering stone statues (Image: Terry L Hunt)Related Articles What caused the collapse of Easter Island civilisation? 25 September 2004 Last of the great migrations 24 April 2004 Histories: Carteret's South Sea trouble 11 February 2006

The first humans may have arrived on Easter Island several centuries later than previously supposed, suggests a new study. If so, these Polynesian settlers must have begun destroying the island's forests almost immediately after their arrival.

Easter Island has often been cited as the classic example of a human-induced ecological catastrophe. The island – one of the most remote places on Earth – was once richly forested, but settlers cut the forests, partly to use the wood in construction of the massive stone statues and temples for which the island is famous. When Dutch sailors arrived in 1722, they found a starving population on a barren island.

Archaeologists had thought that humans first arrived at the island around 800 AD, based on radiocarbon dating of kitchen scraps and cooking fires. Since the first signs of severe deforestation do not appear until the 13th century, this suggests the Easter Islanders lived several centuries without serious impact on their environment.

Not so, says Terry Hunt, an archaeologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Hunt and Carl Lipo of California State University at Long Beach, US, radiocarbon-dated charcoal from the earliest human traces in a new excavation on the island. The site, Anakena, is Easter Island's only sandy beach and has long been regarded as the likeliest spot for first colonists to settle. To their surprise, the wood dated no earlier than 1200 AD – several hundred years more recent than they had expected.

Chop chop "I got those results back and I was sceptical," says Hunt. "I thought, something's wrong with these." When repeated samples yielded the same date, he and Lipo re-examined the existing evidence. After throwing out any studies that lacked replicate samples or had other methodological problems, the 11 studies that remained all pointed to the same date – roughly 1200 AD.

Such a late arrival date means that the new inhabitants of Easter Island must have begun hacking down trees almost immediately, building the gigantic monuments and stone heads that make the island so distinctive, says Hunt.

And the new civilisation's ecological footprint must have been heavy from the start. "There isn't a period of ecological stability. There was almost immediate impact," says Hunt. "It isn't a two-part story any more. There's really just one chapter."

Broader context Not everyone is convinced, however. A first arrival on Easter Island around 900 AD would fit well with Polynesians' first arrival on the nearest neighbouring islands of Mangareva, Henderson and Pitcairn, says Patrick Kirch, an archaeologist at the University of California at Berkeley, US.

Kirch thinks Hunt and Lipo may have been too free in discarding studies for minor methodological problems, thus rejecting valid dates in this range. "For me, they don't make a convincing argument that we can eliminate the earlier dates, especially in light of the broader regional context," he says.

And their new excavation may have simply sampled a relatively young settlement while missing nearby, older sites. To resolve the issue, researchers will need to date charcoal from many more excavations to see what pattern emerges. "Then we may be able to say we have the answer," says Kirch.

Journal reference: Science (DOI: 10.1126/science.1121879)

TOPICS: Miscellaneous
KEYWORDS: agriculture; akuaku; animalhusbandry; archaeoastronomy; dejavududes; dietandcuisine; easterisland; ecology; ecuador; environment; godsgravesglyphs; huntergatherers; jareddiamond; longears; megaliths; moai; rapanui; rongorongo; thorheyerdahl
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To: MSSC6644

That may be true, but in the case of Easter Island all we will ever get is an educational guess as to what happened.

We believe Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of homosexual behavior. But thats just a guess, I guess we never learned from that. We dont know what happened to Atlantis or if it even existed. History I love to learn from but educated guesses arent history.

Global warming is an educated guess that half the scientists cant agree on and thats happening now.

21 posted on 03/10/2006 12:39:58 PM PST by sgtbono2002
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To: S0122017

Jared Diamond mentions this in 'collapse'. By itself, it adds to his argument, but collectively, his book arrives at biased environmentalist type conclusions. Not recommended.

But 'Guns, Germs, and Steel' is a great read.

22 posted on 03/10/2006 12:43:20 PM PST by traviskicks (
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To: GreenFreeper
"At what point do humans get removed from the ecosystem? What is a sustainable footprint? What size footprints do other species have?"
Whada trying to do, drive me to drink. ha ha. I'll take a shot at the third question. 1 nanameter to 1 light year. I think that could cover at least some species.
23 posted on 03/10/2006 1:08:31 PM PST by Marine_Uncle (Honor must be earned)
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To: S0122017; StayAt HomeMother; Ernest_at_the_Beach; decimon; 1010RD; 21twelve; 24Karet; ...

 GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother & Ernest_at_the_Beach
Note: this topic is from March 9, 2006.

Blast from the Past.

Thanks S0122017.

To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list.

24 posted on 04/30/2012 8:02:30 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (FReepathon 2Q time --
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To: Diana in Wisconsin

7.39 acres for me.

How can I increase it to 10?

25 posted on 04/30/2012 8:16:40 PM PDT by chesley (Eat what you want, and die like a man. Never trust anyone who hasn't been punched in the face)
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To: SunkenCiv

Whoa! All of a sudden it was 2006, lol.

26 posted on 04/30/2012 9:01:27 PM PDT by Ken H (Austerity is the irresistible force. Entitlements are the immovable object.)
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To: S0122017
'Did humans devastate Easter Island on arrival?'
Humans? No way ......

He's an 'Expert' so he should know.

27 posted on 05/01/2012 6:24:17 AM PDT by Condor51 (Yo Hoffa, so you want to 'take out conservatives'. Well okay Jr - I'm your Huckleberry)
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To: Ken H

:’) Who knew time travel would be so cheap?

28 posted on 05/01/2012 4:30:42 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (FReepathon 2Q time --
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