Skip to comments.Did Humans Decimate Easter Island On Arrival?
Posted on 03/09/2006 5:21:22 PM PST by blam
Did humans decimate Easter Island on arrival?
19:00 09 March 2006
NewScientist.com news service
Early settlers to the remote Easter Island stripped the islands natural resources to erect towering stone statues (Image: Terry L Hunt)
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.
"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."
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)
25 September 2004
From New Scientist Print Edition.
THE mysterious inhabitants of Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean did not wreck their pristine environment and so ruin their chances of survival. They were the victims of circumstance and were probably doomed to perish.
Easter Island has long been a mystery: a wind-blasted and treeless landscape dominated by giant stone statues set by its long-since-departed Polynesian inhabitants. Because it was once forested, it has become an emblem of environmental and social decline.
But a detailed study of 70 Pacific islands pinpoints nine environmental predictors of Pacific deforestation before the arrival of Europeans, and comes to a different conclusion (Nature, vol 431, p 443). "Easter's collapse was not because its people were especially improvident, but because they faced one of the Pacific's most fragile environments," says geographer Jared Diamond of the University of California, Los Angeles.
The island's remoteness in the eastern Pacific meant it rarely, if ever, benefited from fertile volcanic dust brought on the winds from eruptions in Asia. It is also low-lying, small and dry. And the island is distant from the equator, so the Polynesians' favourite trees, such as breadfruit and Tahitian chestnut, would not grow there. These factors would have made it difficult for the island's inhabitants to grow new trees to replace those they used.
From issue 2466 of New Scientist magazine, 25 September 2004, page 17
George Bush's fault.
Are they making this stuff up as they go along ping???
If Gray Davis or Al Gore had been running things, this never would have happened.
I heard it was immigration from muslim lands and gun control
What I love about the Easter Island story is that is debunks the benign native impact on the environment myth we have been fed by the shovel full for years.
I read years ago that someone calculated it only took 34 generations for the original population to die out. (680 years)
My guess is that it was the first, and maybe only, successful prison colony.
I saw an analysis recently that said that the land-ownership system in E.I. was to blame, that had anyone had an incentive to think about the future (as they do in, for example, modern tree farms), the forests would've been more than adequately preserved.
Prof. Diamond is an ecologic determinist who believes that biologists are the primary experts worth listening to, so I suspect he wouldn't have much time for that view.
Like Haiti but with fancier statuary.
Yup. I just completed reading his book, Collapse. He did compare Haiti to Easter Island.
The thought that the people intelligent enough to create and erect the monuments were so stupid as to render their existence obsolete is a real stretch.
It's not hard to conceive at all. Also they were not one happy tribe, there was serious internal strife with vandalism of rival clan statues
I don't think we know how it was done. I saw a documentary where some people erected a rock about 1/20th the size of an actual statue, and proclaimed the mystery solved. I had a good laugh over that one.
Don't you mean, "Ancestors of George Bush's fault"?;)))
Yeah, yeah, we know, humans bad, humans destroy, we should all just die, the world would be better, blah, blah, blah, Zzzzzzz
I'll bet if Kerry had won the 2004 election, he would have used stem cell research to regrow the forests.
The word is "Devastate": dev-as-tate.
Archaeologists had thought that humans first arrived at the island around 800 AD, based on radiocarbon dating of kitchen scraps and cooking fires... 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.IOW, "the most likely spot" didn't seem too likely to the people who actually settled the island around 800 AD. Or perhaps the beach is much newer than the volcanic rock that characterizes the rest of the coastline, simply because of wave and wind action.
We learned that seals were coming to a bad end and being mummified by nature in Antarctica in 1200 A.D. That was interesting and we wondered what was happening in Antarctica at that time...one of the technicians... noticed that a seal carcass that he himself had shot for dog-meat and that got left out through the winter... [looked] just like the mummified seals that they had been sending in. So without telling too many people what he was doing, he sent this mummified seal to be carbon-dated and do you know it was dated to 1200 A.D., and he had shot it the year before. When that was made public it really caused a storm...To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list. Thanks.
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Rapa Nui bump.
It fits my new theory of Mini-Global Warming.
No group or other entity decimated Easter Island. The damage to the environment cannot be estimated in tenths and surely 1/10 damage is not nearly so severe as to warrant all the speculation. Decimation refers specifically to the killing of 1/10 of a group of people. It has been done since Roman times(Latin is the origin of the word) as reprisal for resistance by non-assimilatted populations or it has been done as punishment for losing a battle right up to Soviet times.
Ooooook. See blam? Should have left original title in tact, like i did, when i posted the article without checking whether someone else had already posted it.
You know that nobody cares about the content of the articles, its the "TYPOS" and "WORDCHOICE" that they critisize. Just like laywers.
(not sayin' nuffin'.) < |:)~
You might want to add some code that generates an automatic "Bush's Fault" post whenever a new thread is generated. It would save time, effort, and we'd never miss a chance to blame it on the Prez!
I'm rather confused here.I thought natives(non-white) lived in harmony with nature and respected the environment?sarc intended.I'm amazed this theory was actually printed.
:') At least Aku-Aku made sense, and fit the facts.
Of course you can turn that around....The thought that the people
intelligen t stupid enough to create and erect the monuments were would not be so stupid as to render their existence obsolete is a real stretch.
Would they look better with a pancake on their head??
You know, there are no witnesses as to what exactly GHW Bush was doing in the south pacific during that period of time between being shot down and being rescued...
...bet he has something to do with killing them off.
This is a pretty interesting read.
Well that goodness someone settled there, otherwise we would not have any Easter candy
But you missed laywers... :)
How sure is the idea of intense competition among the tribal groups on the island? Were the starving survivors still trying to compete?
Indications are that they were...all the way to the point that there weren't enough people left to move the statues.
Same thing could happen to the whole planet, as those who grew up under the shade of the mushroom cloud already sense as clearly as they sense that something beside speculators is driving the price of oil.
Why ship prisoners many thousands of mile across the ocean when you much more cheaply kill them at home?
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