Nav: Home

Solving the ancient mysteries of Easter Island

January 10, 2019

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. - The ancient people of Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile) built their famous ahu monuments near coastal freshwater sources, according to a team of researchers including faculty at Binghamton University, State University of New York.

The island of Rapa Nui is well-known for its elaborate ritual architecture, particularly its numerous statues (moai) and the monumental platforms that supported them (ahu.) Researchers have long wondered why ancient people built these monuments in their respective locations around the island, considering how much time and energy was required to construct them. A team of researchers including Binghamton University anthropologist Carl Lipo used quantitative spatial modeling to explore the potential relations between ahu construction locations and subsistence resources, namely, rock mulch agricultural gardens, marine resources, and freshwater sources--the three most critical resources on Rapa Nui. Their results suggest that ahu locations are explained by their proximity to the island's limited freshwater sources.

"The issue of water availability (or the lack of it) has often been mentioned by researchers who work on Rapa Nui/Easter Island," said Lipo. "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. 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."

"Many researchers, ourselves included, have long speculated associations between ahu/moai and different kinds of resources, e.g., water, agricultural land, areas with good marine resources, etc.," said lead author Robert DiNapoli of the University of Oregon. "However, these associations had never been quantitatively tested or shown to be statistically significant. Our study presents quantitative spatial modeling clearly showing that ahu are associated with freshwater sources in a way that they aren't associated with other resources."

According to Terry Hunt of the University of Arizona, the proximity of the monuments to freshwater tells us a great deal about the ancient island society.

"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. 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."

The researchers currently only have comprehensive freshwater data for the western portion of the island and plan to do a complete survey of the island in order to continue to test their hypothesis of the relation between ahu and freshwater.
-end-
Also contributing to this research were Matthew Becker and Tanya Brosnan (California State University, Long Beach); Sean Hixon (Pennsylvania State University); and Alex E. Morrison (University of Auckland).

The paper, "Rapa Nui (Easter Island) monument locations explained by freshwater sources," was published in PLOS ONE.

Binghamton University

Related Water Articles:

Water, water, nowhere
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering have found that the unusual properties of graphane -- a two-dimensional polymer of carbon and hydrogen -- could form a type of anhydrous 'bucket brigade' that transports protons without the need for water, potentially leading to the development of more efficient hydrogen fuel cells for vehicles and other energy systems.
Advantage: Water
When water comes in for a landing on the common catalyst titanium oxide, it splits into hydroxyls just under half the time.
What's really in the water
Through a five-year, $500,000 CAREEER Award from the National Science Foundation, a civil and environmental engineering research group at the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering will be developing new DNA sequencing methods to directly measure viral loads in water and better indicate potential threats to human health.
Jumping water striders know how to avoid breaking of the water surface
When escaping from attacking predators, different water strider species adjust their jump performance to their mass and morphology in order to jump off the water as fast and soon as possible without breaking of the water surface.
Water, water -- the two types of liquid water
There are two types of liquid water, according to research carried out by an international scientific collaboration.
Just add water? New MRI technique shows what drinking water does to your appetite, stomach and brain
Stomach MRI images combined with functional fMRI of the brain activity have provided scientists new insight into how the brain listens to the stomach during eating.
UM researchers found shallow-water corals are not related to their deep-water counterparts
A new study led by scientists at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science found that shallow-reef corals are more closely related to their shallow-water counterparts over a thousand miles away than they are to deep-water corals on the same reef.
Saline water better than soap and water for cleaning wounds, researchers find
Researchers found that very low water pressure was an acceptable, low-cost alternative for washing out open fractures, and that the reoperation rate was higher in the group that used soap.
UTA research predicting lake levels, moving water to yield better data for water providers
A University of Texas at Arlington environmental engineer is creating an integrated decision support tool for optimal operation of water supply systems that will allow water providers to make better decisions about when to turn on pumps to transfer water from one reservoir system to another and when to release water downstream from the reservoirs.
Surfing water molecules could hold the key to fast and controllable water transport
Scientists at UCL have identified a new and potentially faster way of moving molecules across the surfaces of certain materials.

Related Water Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Don't Fear Math
Why do many of us hate, even fear math? Why are we convinced we're bad at it? This hour, TED speakers explore the myths we tell ourselves and how changing our approach can unlock the beauty of math. Guests include budgeting specialist Phylecia Jones, mathematician and educator Dan Finkel, math teacher Eddie Woo, educator Masha Gershman, and radio personality and eternal math nerd Adam Spencer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#517 Life in Plastic, Not Fantastic
Our modern lives run on plastic. It's in the computers and phones we use. It's in our clothing, it wraps our food. It surrounds us every day, and when we throw it out, it's devastating for the environment. This week we air a live show we recorded at the 2019 Advancement of Science meeting in Washington, D.C., where Bethany Brookshire sat down with three plastics researchers - Christina Simkanin, Chelsea Rochman, and Jennifer Provencher - and a live audience to discuss plastics in our oceans. Where they are, where they are going, and what they carry with them. Related links:...