Researchers Find Connection Between Easter Island Statues And Freshwater Sources

Posted: Jan 11 2019, 8:37am CST | by , in Latest Science News

 

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Researchers Find Connection between Easter Island Statues and Freshwater Sources
Credit: Dale Simpson, Jr.

New study says that freshwater access and statue locations were closely linked together.

Chile’s Easter Island is known for its unique monumental statues. The hundreds of statues, named moai, stand up to 32 feet tall and have platforms (ahu) that support them. This ritual architecture is believed to have been made by the ancient people of Rapa Nui who arrived at the remote island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean around the 12th century.

Scientists have long wondered why these monumental statues are only created in certain locations around the island. It has been speculated that moai are somehow linked to different resources in the island like agricultural gardens, freshwater and marine resources, but this has never been proved. When researchers used quantitative spatial modeling to explore the potential relations between the locations of statues and three most critical resources on Rapa Nui, they found that Easter Island’s statues are associated with area's limited freshwater sources in a way that they are not associated with other resources.

"The issue of water availability (or the lack of it) has often been mentioned by researchers who work on Rapa Nui/Easter Island. When we started to examine the details of the hydrology, we began to notice that freshwater access and statue location were tightly linked together. It wasn't obvious when walking around – with the water emerging at the coast during low tide, one doesn't necessarily see obvious indications of water. But as we started to look at areas around ahu, we found that those locations were exactly tied to spots where the fresh groundwater emerges –largely as a diffuse layer that flows out at the water's edge. The more we looked, the more consistently we saw this pattern. Places without ahu/moai showed no freshwater,” said Binghamton University anthropologist Carl Lipo.

“The pattern was striking and surprising in how consistent it was. Even when we find ahu/moai in the interior of the island, we find nearby sources of drinking water. This paper reflects our work to demonstrate that this pattern is statistically sound and not just our perception."

The findings suggest that Rapa Nui people knew how they to use their resources wisely. It also hints at a complex and sophisticated society where people shared information and collaborated.

"The monuments and statues are located in places with access to a resource critical to islanders on a daily basis – fresh water. In this way, the monuments and statues of the islanders' deified ancestors reflect generations of sharing, perhaps on a daily basis – centered on water, but also food, family and social ties, as well as cultural lore that reinforced knowledge of the island's precarious sustainability,” said Terry Hunt of the University of Arizona. “And the sharing points to a critical part of explaining the island's paradox: despite limited resources, the islanders succeeded by sharing in activities, knowledge, and resources for over 500 years until European contact disrupted life with foreign diseases, slave trading, and other misfortunes of colonial interests."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.

 

 

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