12 March 2006

Rapa Nui Settled Later Than Thought?

New archaeological findings from Rapa Nui suggest the island may have been settled later and denuded faster than previously thought.
HONOLULU – Recent archaeological study and analysis conducted by University of Hawai‘i at Manoa anthropology professor Terry Hunt suggests that the colonization of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) took place not between 400 and 800 A.D. as previously assumed by scientists, but at least 400 to 800 years later, closer to 1200 A.D.

The finding, which challenges current beliefs about the island’s prehistoric chronology and the dramatic environmental changes that occurred on the island, is detailed in an article by Hunt and co-author Carl Lipo of California State University, Long Beach, and scheduled for publication in the journal Science. It is previewed and available online now in Science Express.

As part of a UH archaeological field school on Rapa Nui, Hunt and a team of field researchers have been excavating archaeological deposits at Anakena, Rapa Nui’s only sand dune and the landing and settlement site of the island’s first inhabitants. Archaeological materials found here with superb preservation include artifacts, charcoal, faunal remains, and the distinctive tubular root molds of the giant Jubaea palm, now extinct....

A later settlement raises some interesting implications for Rapa Nui.

“Human impacts to the environment, such as deforestation, began almost immediately, at least within a century,” explains Hunt. “This means that there was no period where people lived in some ideal harmony with their environment; there was no early period of ecological sustainability. Instead, people arrived and their population grew rapidly, even as forest resources declined. The short chronology calls much of the traditional story into question.”

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