In August 2012 photo shows heads at Rano Raraku, the quarry on easter island.
(AP Photo/Karen Schwartz)
In popular and scientific literature much ink has been spilled on the alleged demise of easter island, or Rapa Nui, as it’s known in the local language.
Jared Diamond’s 2005 book “Collapse” for example, presents a sinister version of what happened in the centuries after the Polynesian seafarers colonized the remote island in the Pacific ocean around A. D. 1200: Rivalry between clans drove the islanders to build hundreds of large “moai,” the larger-than-life sculptures carved from stone. This fierce competition and the growth of the population caused a hubristic over-exploitation of resources, the control of the Rapanui people to despair, and even cannibalism, and the Europeans arriving in the 18th century there was a society on the road to go down, according to Diamond account.
But archaeologists who have done research into the old stone quarries, stone tools and other resources on the island have recently been building a different image of what happened before European contact. A study published today (Aug. 13) in the Journal of Pacific Archaeology adds a new piece of evidence to the case against Rapa Nui collapse. [Image Gallery: Walking Easter Island Statues]
Rapa Nui is probably best known today for its 1,000 moai, the towering images were placed on platforms (“ahu”) and sometimes decorated with huge hats or topknots, called “pukao.” The monuments —which weigh as much as 82 tons (74 tonnes) and are found on the island’s coastal areas were amazingly built without the help of wheels or animals.
Previous archaeological research has shown that there is no one clan had the stone resources within its territory to make of these huge monuments, and that there were preferred quarries for each type of stone. For example, the majority of the moai came from a singletuff source, and most of the pukao came from a single red scoria quarry complex. In the new study, Dale Simpson, Jr, an adjunct professor of anthropology at the College of DuPage in Illinois, set out to investigate the origin of basalt stone tools that were used in the moai carving.
“Each quarry is like a finger, and every stone you pull out is going to have a fingerprint,” said Simpson Live Science. Simpson and his colleagues searched for a match with the geochemical signatures in a set of 21 basalt picks and adzes (or “toki”), with basalt quarries on the island. He said that he and his colleagues were very surprised” to find that the stones were mainly sourced from a quarry complex, even though there are other sites to get basalt on the island.
“This continued pattern of minimum resources-maximum use suggests a form of cooperation,” said Simpson Live Science. In other words, he thinks that the clans had a system of exchange that they blame on each other’s territory for the sharing of resources. “I think that goes against the collapse model that says that everything they did was in a battle to build bigger statues,” he added. [7 Bizarre Ancient Cultures That History Forgot]
Study co-author Jo Anne Van Tilburg, a UCLA archaeologist who is also director of the Easter Island Statue Project, said that the results support “an image of the craft specialization based on the exchange of information, but we can’t know at this stage if the interaction was cooperation.” In a statement From Tilburg suggested that it is possible that the quarrying of the stone tools ‘ can also be forced in a certain way,” and that the study encourages the further mapping and stone sourcing.”
Carl Lipo, a professor of anthropology at Binghamton University in New York, who was not involved in the research, said that the results are not really surprising. “The fact that there is no ‘control’ of the resources is quite evident when one looks at other aspects of the album,” Lipo said in an email to Live Science. “However, these findings are important because the degree of misunderstandings and assumptions that people have about the island.”
“What archaeologists who carry out fieldwork on the island have learned in the past 20 years is that the evidence dramatically at odds with the stories that most people have heard,” he said. Lipo explained that there is no archaeological evidence for the control of resources, or a hierarchical distribution of resources, which leads to a new story about the pre-contact Rapa Nui society: that the island was not dominated by the enormous chiefdoms, and earlier, communities shared resources without any prehistoric warfare.
Simpson noted that there are still thousands of Rapanui people living today. Another archaeological investigation has shown that the population on the island is a peak around the time of the first European contact in 1722, and then went into sharp decline in the century that followed. In another study he published earlier this year in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, Simpson argued that the consequences of colonization, including disease, violence and forced labour, “perhaps played the biggest catalyst for Rapanui cultural change.”
Original article on Live Science.