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Easter Island Archaeology and Human Impact on Pacific Islands

A lecture for UQ ARCH 2025 - Archaeology of Pacific Islands
by

Dale Simpson Jr.

on 4 November 2014

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Transcript of Easter Island Archaeology and Human Impact on Pacific Islands

Once had names, now
most have numbers….
Dale F. Simpson Jr.
Ph.D. Candidate/Centennial Scholar/Outreach Facilitator/
Anthropology Museum Docent - University of Queensland -
School of Social Science (Archaeology)

Instructor - College of DuPage - Department of Anthropology

Easter Island Archaeology &
Human Impacts on Pacific Islands

Easter Island in pop culture
Ancestors &
Archaeology

N
27 09’ S 109 26’ W
N
2088km
3512km
Salas and
Gómez
Pitcairn
Chile
391km
Pacific Ocean Tectonics
507m
370m.
310m
163km2
16km.
24km.
16km.
33 species in record…....6 today!
Palaeofauna
Sea Life
167 Fish Species - 25% Endemic
Limited Coral and shell
Abundant Sea Urchin
Root molds
Endocarps
Palm pollen
under SEM
Forest domination
Petroglyphs
Field Museum artifacts
Osteological remains
Petroglyphs
N
Hanga Roa:
Island Population 5,800 (2012)
60% RN ancestry
Hanga
Roa
Polynesian Seafarers
Polynesian Movement
~2000-500ya
Lapita Movement
~3500-2800ya
Pleistocene Movement
~50-28,000ya
Full-bodied MOAI
Finishing/Detail Area

Thank you to many colleagues for there spatial and metadata!
Ahu Tongariki
Excavation at Ahu Nau Nau
The Arrival of
Hotu Matu’a
Pukao in Puna Pau
N
Puna Pau
Transport down the quarry
397/887 Moai still in quarry.
Nursery of
the moai…

G.I.S. & Viewshed Analysis
Elite Monitoring of the Inland Staple Economy

i.e. Maunga Tari, La Pérouse, and Vaitea
Domestic (no surplus) versus Asiatic (surplus) modes of production
Theoretical Considerations: Political Economy
Simpson (2009) Easter Island’s Political Economy and the Visibility of its Monumental Architecture
Rapanui
Monumental Architecture
N
‘Anakena Beach
Leaving Rano Raraku
on moai roads
N
Rano
Raraku
RN paralleled other Polynesian political economies

Ascribed Polynesian Status
Ahu - Moai :
Places of secular activities & sacred worship
Poepoe
Semipyramidal
Image Ahu
3 Ahu Types
Umu
Taheta
Manavai
Hare moa
Resource sectors
Socio-political
Visualscape
Painting by Hodges 1774
Models of Rapanui Sociopolitical
Organization
N
N
N
Ethnographic
Ethnolinguistic
Archaeological
Ahu Tongariki
MOAI see you!
Aringa Ora (The Living Face)
Sooty tern
Great
frigate
Petrel
Albatross
Islands/underwater seamounts
Jubaea
chilensis
Paschalococos
disperta
21 tree/48 plants
(14 Polynesian crops)

16 Million Palms?
Ahu Nau Nau
Karl Marx
Ariki and Honui used mana & tapu over multiple parts of RN society.
In multiple phases
Toki
Kau Toki
Rapanui material culture
Rapa nui and its peak ~1400-1700 AD
Whalers and kidnappers
Slave raiders
Missionary work
Ecocide or Ethnocide?
European Arrival
Master Shave your Hair!
Orongo
Hoahakanani’a
Ana/Ana kionga
Mata’a: Evidence of War? Or false interpretation?
Easter Island
Earth Island
Drought
Earthquakes
Tsunamis
Typhoons
Tree Disease
Little Ice Age
Volcanism
Cosmological
Environmental Disasters and Events?
Pre-contact Collapse?
Make Make & the tangata manu competition
Elite Hawaiians
Easter Island Archaeology &
Human Impacts on Pacific Islands

Regardless, multiple signs point to
Rapanui adaptation...not collapse
RAPA
Marquesas
Tuamotus
Tahiti
Easter End?
Cannibalism
Mangareva
Matatoa, Ivi Atua, &Tangata Hopu
Ao
Biological DNA (Humans/Animals/Plants)
Language
Navigation/Seafaring
Subsistence
Material Culture
Socio-political organization (Mana/Tapu)
Tatau
String figures
Song and dance (Haka)
Monumental Architecture
Overview:

Geology/Geography/Palaeoecology
Ancestors & Archaeology
A Collapsed Theory?
Human Impact on Pacific Islands

9360.7 KM
S. Poike
Rano
Kao
Rano
Kao
Motus
Orito
Mata'a
Toki
Terevaka
Terevaka
Rano
Kao
Rano Aroi
100 lava flows
Maunga
Toa toa
Rano Raraku
Geography, Geology,
Palaeoenvironment

A Collapsed
Theory?

Human Impact on Pacific Islands
J. Diamond
M. Mulrooney
T. Hunt
C. Lipo
P. Kirch
J. Flenley
A.Anderson
M. Spriggs
R. Green
M. Allen
T. Ladefoged
H. Martinsson-Wallin
M. Weisler
Heyerdahl et al. and Golson
Palaeoecological
Reconstruction
Rats &
population growth
Subsistence
Adaptation
Rongorongo
Movement to S.America
$3300 AUD
N. Poike
Long vs. Short Polynesian Chronology, Collapse and Continuation, & RN
Simpson (2010) Captain A.W. F. Fuller’s Contribution to The Field Museum’s Easter Island Collection

Highlight the photo album.. not the photo
Easter Island - Rapa Nui
- Te Pito ote Henua
Landing on Easter
www.youtube.com/watch?v=ui9uuu45rMg
Rano Raraku flyby
www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYx-C_IVd28

Movin' the Moai!
www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5YR0uqPAI8
www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfbQA-Krx9Q
Commoners
Elite Settlements
Hare Paenga
Ahu - Moai
Complex
When?
AD 1000-1200
Culture history since Heyerdahl et al.
Poike
But they are
still strong!
Surplus from producers to support elite activities.
Tim Earle
Settlement Pattern Change
Motu Iti
Motu Nui
Motu Kau Kau
A living culture!
Simpson and Haoa (in press) The Hotu Matu'a Collection

Simpson (in prep) Using artifacts from the Field Museum’s Pacific collection as benchmarks for ethnographic fieldwork on Easter Island

Manutara
Makohe
Human Impact on Pacific Islands


3. Most Pacific societies successfully dealt with early losses and persisted!

Birds
NG 520
Solomons 127
Fiji 54
Samoa 33
Tonga 20
Society Islands 17
Marquesas 11
Henderson 4

Inland Fish

Natural W to E decline in biodiversity

Beyond Solomons: only bats & sea mammals
Other fauna: no behavioral defenses against mammalian predators
People also brought other mammals (dogs, pigs, rats)
Remote Oceania: no mammalian predators
Avifauna/faunal Extinctions

1. Small scale societies can have major impacts
Before humans key predator

In Maori legends: pouakai/hokioi
Picked up children

Up to 40lbs

CT and CAT scans to
reconstruct the size

Haast Eagle
Flightless Bird

12ft tall

Hunted by Maori
Extinct by 1500AD

Within 100 years?


Moa
Tonga
27 native land birds recorded
Only 6 survive today

Huahine, Societies
18 native land birds known
7 survive

Easter Island
6 native land birds
0 survived

Magnitude of Extinctions: Remote Oceania

David Steadman
500,000 fossil bones studied
8000 year sequence to analyze
But human settlement not till AD 1535

Galapagos Islands:
calibrating natural extinction rates

Pre-human extinctions: 0-3 vertebrate populations (not entire species)

Post-human extinctions: 21-24 vertebrate populations

Extinction accelerated after AD 1800

Tikopia and Tonga
Decrease of presence in ARCH record
Less found today

Easter Island
Become prestige elite food due to shortage
Under tapu control
Human impact on turtles
Life forms lost

Giant frogs,
crocodiles,
tortoises

Bats, megapodes
giant iguanas

Reptilian losses
Only 1 modern crocodile in Oceania
3 species of crocodiles present on Lapita arrival
One each in Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu
Extinction probably due to over-hunting

Mekosuchus

Brachylophus sp.
Extinct species 2X size of modern relatives
Disappeared w/in a century of human arrival
Smaller related species survive today in Fiji & Tonga

Extinct Giant Iguana
Found in Fiji but origins unknown

Giant Frog
Colonial taxa that roost in caves & trees

5 species in prehuman record; 2 remain

important pollinators & seed dispersers

Loss of bats in Tonga
(Koopman & Steadman 1995)

19th century ideas about “noble savages” living in perfect “environmental harmony” are myths
Darwin first to point this out in Tahiti


Effects less than larger populations but Sometimes Drastic

Important points
Direct Hunting, Habitat Alteration, Exotic Introduction
Sound familiar?

II. Human impacts were multi-faceted

Extinction: complete loss of a species

Extirpations: extinction local but species persists elsewhere

“Resource depression”: changes in population size or age distribution as result of harvesting pressures

Biota: Degrees of Impact

Direct Hunting
Domesticates
pigs and dogs
Other Commensals
Pacific Rat/Snails
Impacts
Predators
Competitors
Disease carriers??

Exotic introductions

Complete habitat loss

Loss of “ecosystem engineers”

Loss of keystone species

Potential eco-systemic impacts

Few natural predators
Behaviorally naive prey
High level of endemism
Island size diminishes, isolation increases
Many flightless or poor flyers
Humans targeted vulnerable large species
Immune systems “virgin territory” for new pathogens?

Why human arrival so devastating?

Forest removal
Burning
Garden clearance
Hunting
Establishment of Anthropogenic ENVR

Habitat alteration
Once common & widespread in NZ
Well represented archaeologically
Now NZ’s rarest bird

Problem
flightless
easy prey

The vulnerable Kakapo...
Prefer open habitats
High reproductive rates
Nocturnal species
Breed elsewhere
Those that inhabit other less affected ENVR (refugia)

Species that persisted

Pukeko
Shift to resilient species,
Changes in technologies,
Conservation philosophies

3. Pacific societies successfully dealt with early losses
Change in collection patterns overtime

Desirable first

Later focus on species that reproduce quickly and survive human impacts
Shift to resilient species

Fishhooks change with time
Fishing larger species first
Move to reef species later
Raw material change

Changes in technology
Shift to mass harvesting
Larger social networks working together
Who controls the catch?
Changes in technologies
Exploiting fresh water eels
New nets
Fishing technologies
Fish ponds
Changes in technologies
Sustainable harvesting/monitoring use

Tapu/Rahui or resting periods for re-growth

Spiritual & practical relationship with ENVR

Conservation philosophies
(e.g., kaitiaki)
Pacific peoples found sustainable solutions
Solutions were not all the same
Some more successful, more efficient
Need to carry forward successes to future
What can we learn?

To think about:

1. Even small scale societies can have major impacts on the environment
2. Human impacts in prehistoric Polynesia were multi-faceted
Feeding
'aumakua
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