Home / Science / New study questions the popular “collapse” hypothesis for Easter Island

New study questions the popular “collapse” hypothesis for Easter Island



Moai statues in a row, Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, Chile.
Enlarge /. Moai statues in a row, Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, Chile.

De Agostini Image Library / Getty Images

In his bestseller 2005 collapseJared Diamond offered the social collapse of Easter Island (aka Rapa Nui) around 1

600 as a warning story. Diamond essentially argued that the destruction of the island’s ecological environment triggered a downward spiral of internal warfare, population decline and cannibalism, which eventually led to a breakdown of social and political structures. It is a narrative that is now being questioned by a team of researchers who have been studying the island’s archeology and cultural history for many years.

In a new article published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, the researchers offer fascinating evidence that people in Rapa Nui continue to thrive even after 1600. The authors suggest that this justifies a rethinking of the popular narrative that the island was destitute when Europeans arrived in 1722.

“The extent to which their cultural heritage has been passed on – and which is still present through language, art and cultural practices – is remarkable and impressive,” said co-author Robert DiNapoli, a doctoral student in anthropology at the University of Oregon. Sapiens said. “This level of resilience has been overlooked due to the collapse story and deserves recognition.”

Easter Island is famous for its huge monumental statues Moai, built about 800 years ago by early residents. Scholars have been confused about that Moai Decades of thought on Easter Island about its cultural importance and how a Stone Age culture managed to carve and transport statues weighing up to 92 tons. The Moai were usually called mounted on platforms ahu.

On Easter Island, which the indigenous people call Rapa Nui, there are many human-like statues that are scattered around the island.
Enlarge /. On Easter Island, which the indigenous people call Rapa Nui, there are many human-like statues that are scattered around the island.

Back in 2012, Carl Lipo from Binghamton University and his colleague Terry Hunt from the University of Arizona showed that a 10-foot 5-ton can be transported Moai a few hundred meters with only 18 people and three strong ropes through a swinging movement. In 2018, Lipo proposed a fascinating hypothesis of how islanders put red hats on some Moai;; These can weigh up to 13 tons. He suggested that the residents use ropes to roll their hats up a ramp. And as we reported last year, Lipo and his team (based on quantitative spatial modeling) concluded that the islanders probably chose the locations of the statues based on the availability of fresh water sources according to their 2019 release in PLOS One.

For this latest study, Lipo and his colleagues focused on creating a better chronology of Rapa Nui’s human cast. Although it is generally accepted that people came to Eastern Polynesia and Rapa Nui sometime in the late 12th or early 13th centuries, “we don’t really know much about the timing and pace of events ahu Construction and Moai Transport, “Lipo said to Ars.” We generally know that this type of construction took place before the Europeans, but how these events happened was unclear. ”

The team applied a Bayesian model-based method to existing radiocarbon data collected from previous excavations at 11 different locations ahu. The model also integrated the order and position of the island’s distinctive architecture and ethnohistorical reports, quantifying the start of monument building, the speed at which it took place, and when it was likely to end. This allowed the researchers to test Diamond’s “collapse” hypothesis by creating a more accurate schedule for construction at each of the sites.

“Our results show that evidence of a pre-contact breakdown is lacking and instead provide strong support for a emerging model of resilient communities that continues its long-term traditions despite the impact of arrival in Europe,” the authors wrote. In addition, “our model-based approach to testing breakdown chronology hypotheses can be methodologically extended to other case studies around the world where similar debates continue to be difficult to resolve.”

The work met with mixed opinions from Lipos archaeologists. “Your work contributes to the growing evidence that has accumulated over the past 10 years that earlier reports of Easter Island collapse are incorrect – and need to be reconsidered,” said Seth Quintus, an anthropologist at the University of Hawaii Mānoa said to Sapiens. Quintus is not involved in Lipos’ study.

However, UCLA archaeologist Jo Anne Van Tilburg, who was also not involved in the study, expressed skepticism. “The collapse narrative, as these authors describe it, is a straw man who they put up and who does not exactly reflect the actual hypothesis,” Van Tilburg told Sapiens. She still considers Diamond’s collapse hypothesis to be a viable option, arguing that his hypothesis was not based on a single collapse event, but on a series of events that led to the destruction of the social structure, which was further aggravated by the arrival of European explorers.

A look at the monuments of Easter Island, Rapanui, circa 1775–1776 by William Hodges. “><em>A look at the monuments of Easter Island, Rapanui,</em> circa 1775–1776 by William Hodges. “src =” https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/easter2-640×394.jpg “width =” 640 “height =” 394 “srcset =” https: //cdn.arstechnica .net / wp-content / uploads / 2020/05 / easter2.jpg 2x”/><figcaption class=
Enlarge /. A look at the monuments of Easter Island, Rapanui, circa 1775–1776 by William Hodges.

National Maritime Museum / public domain

Lipo admits that some critics have suggested that his team have chosen radiocarbon dating, which he dismisses as “just nonsense and misinformed thinking.” According to Lipo, some radiocarbon samples may be biased due to problems with “old carbon”: that is, the samples were taken from chunks of burnt wood or charcoal, for example. “Some parts of trees can be much older than others because they grew when the tree just started,” he said, which can distort the results of radiocarbon dating.

That’s why he and his team filtered their radiocarbon samples for those they thought were related to human occupation and events, which meant that they analyzed a smaller subset of all available age groups – not an unusual strategy. And the results for colonization estimates are about the same as before.

Other critics have insisted that there must be a time period earlier than the earliest radiocarbon age anyone has found. “This is an argument based on the lack of evidence – that is, something happened that we will never have a record for,” said Lipo. “As scientists, our strategy was to explain the evidence found, which means to explain the available archaeological records (and the age of the radiocarbons). Speculating something that is inherently undetectable and invisible is more a question of Faith as science. “

Due to the small size of the island, Lipo also says that the impact on humans would have been “fairly instantaneous”. “If people hadn’t come to the island for centuries and were hiding in a single cave, we would have evidence of their effectiveness,” he added.

At the other end of the chronology, Lipo says his team saw fewer setbacks. “Others are beginning to demonstrate that ahu Construction, Moai The carving and other activities continued not only until the arrival of Europe in 1722, but after that, “he said.” The entire notion that all activities related to the construction and use of monumental architecture ceased sometime in 1715 at the end of the 17th century simply has no empirical basis. “

Monuments of Easter Island, 1836.
Enlarge /. Monuments of Easter Island, 1836.

De Agostini Picture Library Contributor / Getty Images

As far as Tilburg’s “straw man” is concerned, Lipo doesn’t have it. “To call something a ‘straw man’ hypothesis is one way to change your narrative to say ‘we have been saying that all the time,'” he said. “It is a false statement and completely misleading.” He counters that Diamond’s “evidence” was quite specific to the collapse argument: the arrival of people to the island as early as 700 AD, an “ecological paradise” that existed when people arrived, massive populations (up to 30,000), Evidence of erosion, overfishing, widespread warfare at group level and cannibalism.

“Our job was to examine only the archaeological evidence that should be obvious to support his claims,” ​​said Lipo. “We simply have a lack of anything in the distance that Diamond said. Instead, we have learned that his reasoning is based on a deeply flawed misunderstanding of the island’s historical records (particularly the impact of post-European conditions) and on these poor assumptions about human beings Behavior in general. “

Field work is currently not possible given the ongoing global pandemic. However, Lipo and his colleagues plan to continue their studies on Easter Island and test hypotheses with data generated from the records through additional field research, remote sensing, and artifact analysis. According to Lipo, they will expand their analysis to focus more on explaining why the communities on Rapa Nui have worked so consistently to create the island’s spectacular architecture.

“Diamond (and others) tend to see building statues as a ‘cultural’ thing that has gotten out of control,” said Lipo. “But we didn’t find this answer very satisfactory. Why Rapa Nui and not elsewhere in the Pacific? Why at all and why again and again? It is important to find out if we are.” I will really solve the ‘secret’ of Easter Island. “

DOI: Journal of Archaeological Science, 2020. 10.1016 / j.jas.2020.105094 (About DOIs).


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