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A fresh look at the ecological and cultural history of Easter Island before European contact

A new book on Easter Island has been published by the Botanical Institute of Barcelona (IBB) paleoecologist Valentí Rull and the North-American archaeologist Christopher Stevenson (Virginia Commonwealth University) that provides a multidisciplinary outlook on this enigmatic island and the prehistoric culture that inhabited it before European contact (1722).

Easter Island (EI) is the most remote inhabited place on Earth and the ancient Rapanui culture that erected the iconic megalithic statues known as moai has fascinated scientific and popular audiences for generations. The most renowned EI enigmas are: (i) the timing of prehistoric settlement, (ii) the Polynesian or South American origin of the first settlers, (iii) the carving and transportation of the moai from the quarry to their final emplacement, (iv) the meaning of the moai, (v) the full anthropogenic deforestation of the island, (vi) the assumed cultural and demographic collapse caused by the overexploitation of natural resources, and (vii) the potential role of climatic changes on the ecological and cultural demise.

Moai sculptures from Easter Island. Images: Valentí Rull.

To date, these topics have been addressed separately from a diversity of scientific disciplines including archaeology, anthropology, paleoecology, ethnography, history, etc. and a holistic view aimed at gathering the findings of all these disciplines into a coherent synthetic framework is lacking. The book by Rull and Stevenson is an attempt to fill this gap and set the basis for the development of integrated interdisciplinary studies. For this purpose, renowned scholars from all disciplines were invited to contribute to the book, which resulted in 24 chapters grouped into six main sections, namely: I) transpacific voyaging and settlement, II) the ancient Rapanui culture, III) climatic and environmental change, IV) deforestation and extinctions, V) collapse or resilience?, and VI) European contact.

In a final chapter entitled: “Towards a holistic approach to Easter Island’s prehistory”, Rull and Stevenson synthesize the most significant information provided in the book and propose a conceptual model based on climate-human-ecological feedbacks and synergies (human ecodynamics), aimed at explaining EI prehistory avoiding usual and unwarranted environmental and/or human deterministic approaches.

 

Reference:

Rull, V. & Stevenson, C.M. 2022. The Prehistory of Easter Island. Towards and Integrative Interdisciplinary Framework. Springer Nature, Cham, 628 p.

Follow this link for other recent books (last 5 years) by Valentí Rull.

 

Author: Valentí Rull

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