Magazine article Geographical

Bones of Contention: Contrary to Pervasive Myth, Easter Islanders Were Resourceful and Sensitive to the Limits of Their Environment

Magazine article Geographical

Bones of Contention: Contrary to Pervasive Myth, Easter Islanders Were Resourceful and Sensitive to the Limits of Their Environment

Article excerpt

Easter Island has long been used as an example of ecocide, where a once-prosperous group of Rapa Nui Polynesians exhausted the island's resources and suffered a population collapse. They are thought to have cut down all of their trees in order to transport the impressive 'moai' statues leaving them with eroded, loose soil and without wood for fishing boats. According to the cautionary tale, the population descended into civil war--and in some retellings even resorted to cannibalism. It's a tale that gets continually peddled. The only problem is, it isn't true.

'If you look at the chemical signature of the remains, it becomes clear that this was a population that knew how to manipulate the soil and harvest from the sea,' says Cat Jarman, who has recently published two papers on data she gleaned from ancient islander's rib fragments. By studying the collagen in the ribs, Jarman has been able to analyse eating habits, going some way towards clearing their reputation for unsustainability. "The information we have found from these remains is inconsistent with the 'ecocide' narrative' says Jarman. 'For one, the soil on the island is very nutrient poor, but the islanders' remains show high levels of nitrogen isotopes. …

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