Project

The UCL Institute of Archaeology Rapa Nui Landscapes of Construction Project (LOC)

Goal: The UCL Rapa Nui Landscapes of Construction Project (LOC) is based at the University College London Institute of Archeology, and is directed by Professor Sue Hamilton, of the UCL Institute of Archaeology, in collaboration with Dr Felipe Armstrong, of Universidad Alberto Hurtado (Chile), and Tiki Astete, Rapanui researcher. Fieldwork is supervised by Mike Seager Thomas, also of the UCL Institute of Archaeology.
It continues the work of the 2008–15, AHRC-funded UCL Institute of Archaeology/University of Manchester Rapa Nui Landscapes of Construction Project. Posted here is research generated by both phases of the project.
On the island, LOC works with Rapanui elders and students and in close cooperation with the Corporacion National Forestal, Rapa Nui, the Ma’u Henua indigenous community organisation, the Museo Antropológico P. Sebastián Englert and STP Rapa Nui.
The main aim of the project is to investigate the construction activities associated with the island’s famous prehistoric statues and architecture as an integrated whole. These construction activities, which include the quarrying, moving and setting up of the statues are considered in terms of island-wide resources, social organization and ideology.
LOC is not just concerned with reconstructing the past of the island, but is also actively contributing to the “living archaeology” of the present-day community, for whom the former is an integral part of its identity. It is working with the Rapanui community to provide training and help in recording, investigating and conserving its remarkable archaeological past.

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Project log

Mike Seager Thomas
added 2 research items
Preliminary report—in Spanish and English—on fieldwork conducted on Poike, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), by the UCL Rapa Nui Landscapes of Construction Project during January and February 2016. The fieldwork focused on two approximately 500x500m survey areas at the east end of the Poike peninsular, both of which are subject to severe erosion. The report summarizes the archaeology found, describes its weathering environments and assesses the threat posed to the archaeology by these. A full LOC report on this work can be found in LOC13.
Threatened ahu (ceremonial platforms) identified by the Rapa Nui Landscapes of Construction Project during its ahu landscapes survey (2008–2010), and during surveys on the Ara Moai (2013–15) and on Poike (2016). This list was submitted to the Secretaría Técnica de Patrimonio, Rapa Nui, in 2017 and the Ma’u Henua indigenous people’s community organization in 2018, to assist these in devising a prioritising strategy for the recording and conservation of these threatened monuments. All ahu are grid-referenced (using the UTM WGS 84 grid system) and where possible correlated with ahu previously located by P. Sebastian Englert, in the Atlas arqueológico de Isla de Pascua and by Helena Martinsson-Wallin. LOC's ahu landscape survey ended in 2012 and the data included here are not necessarily complete or up to date.
Mike Seager Thomas
added a research item
Rapa Nui’s prehistoric Polynesian heritage is iconic. From the later twentieth century the island’s economy has been dependent on the tourism its prehistory attracts. However, until recently there has been little link between the modern built environment of Rapa Nui and its prehistoric past. This article tracks how during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the island’s traditional domestic architecture was supplanted first by colonial then early modern Chilean architecture. The remains of this transformation are fast disappearing through contemporary demolition and an associated rejection of the past that the introduced architecture represents. We highlight how contemporary Rapa Nui architecture instead actively references its iconic prehistoric Polynesian past and positions Rapa Nui in a Polynesian context, for the first time detailing this trajectory and identifying how elements of past artistic and architectural traditions have become incorporated into the architecture of the present. Instead of presenting the intervening period as one of loss of traditional identity, this in fact emphasises a subtle continuity of Rapanui (indigenous Rapa Nui islander) identity. The study is relevant to exploring how the interacting demands and expectations of identity politics and heritage tourism (here in a Polynesian context) can impact on contemporary local architecture and the visitor milieu, reflecting modern concepts, which promote the preservation of some architectures and cultural attributes over others.
Mike Seager Thomas
added an update
A number of short LOC preliminary reports as well digital appendices to LOC reports formerly posted on Researchgate are now available in a collection on the Internet Archive. Also on the Internet Archive are some raw field data, material that was supposed to be but never was posted on the UK Archaeology Data Service, several LOC reports that have never been posted here, and most of our publications. These reports and data will be added to over time.
 
Mike Seager Thomas
added a project goal
The UCL Rapa Nui Landscapes of Construction Project (LOC) is based at the University College London Institute of Archeology, and is directed by Professor Sue Hamilton, of the UCL Institute of Archaeology, in collaboration with Dr Felipe Armstrong, of Universidad Alberto Hurtado (Chile), and Tiki Astete, Rapanui researcher. Fieldwork is supervised by Mike Seager Thomas, also of the UCL Institute of Archaeology.
It continues the work of the 2008–15, AHRC-funded UCL Institute of Archaeology/University of Manchester Rapa Nui Landscapes of Construction Project. Posted here is research generated by both phases of the project.
On the island, LOC works with Rapanui elders and students and in close cooperation with the Corporacion National Forestal, Rapa Nui, the Ma’u Henua indigenous community organisation, the Museo Antropológico P. Sebastián Englert and STP Rapa Nui.
The main aim of the project is to investigate the construction activities associated with the island’s famous prehistoric statues and architecture as an integrated whole. These construction activities, which include the quarrying, moving and setting up of the statues are considered in terms of island-wide resources, social organization and ideology.
LOC is not just concerned with reconstructing the past of the island, but is also actively contributing to the “living archaeology” of the present-day community, for whom the former is an integral part of its identity. It is working with the Rapanui community to provide training and help in recording, investigating and conserving its remarkable archaeological past.
 
Mike Seager Thomas
added a research item
This report (LOC15) summarizes the UCL Rapa Nui Landscapes of Construction Project’s work on the Poike peninsula, Rapa Nui, in 2019, conducted by it in association with the indigenous community organization, Ma’u Henua and the Consejo Monumentos Nacionales Secretaría Técnica de Patrimonio Rapa Nui. Discussed are the impact of the peninsula’s environment on its archaeological distributions, a preliminary survey by LOC of its taheta (elaborated on in LOC16, also uploaded here), and the Ma’u Henua archaeological recording system, which archaeological researchers wishing to work in the Rapa Nui National Park at the time of our survey were obliged to use.
Mike Seager Thomas
added 2 research items
This report details and interprets the form and context of 170-odd Rapa Nui taheta (carved stone basins) surveyed by the UCL Rapa Nui Landscapes of Construction Project in three defined survey areas and in a number of isolated locations across the island. Adduced is the fact that taheta of different forms (classes) have a related non-functional role. For most, the roles previously ascribed to them—water storage, axe polishing, pigment mixing—cannot be sustained. The report is illustrated with photos of over 50 taheta, most of which are unknown to the wider Rapa Nui archaeological community. Digital Appendix 1 can be found at https://archive.org/details/LOC16_taheta_2020_digitalappx1
Mike Seager Thomas
added an update
For a selection of photographs taken during the project see https://www.flickr.com/photos/189475296@N03/sets/72157719060409663
 
Mike Seager Thomas
added a research item
In the following we focus on, and briefly summarize, the work of the UCL Rapa Nui Landscapes of Construction Project (LOC) over the past two years, monitoring various aspects of erosion and weathering on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and its impact on the Rapa Nui heritage landscape. This work builds on and expands data collected during previous British Academy and AHRC funded phases of LOC. Its principal foci are: the threat posed by coastal erosion to ahu (Rapa Nui's prehistoric ceremonial platforms); moai weathering; and sediment erosion on the Poike peninsular, at the eastern end of the Island.
Mike Seager Thomas
added 4 research items
This reports describes excavations conducted by the Rapa Nui Landscapes of Construction Project in 2012 within the crater of Maunga Puna Pau, the quarry on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) from which red scoria topknots or pukao were extracted. The excavations revealed a stable landsurface between layers of insitu and colluvial quarry tailings, a pair of previously unknown petroglyphic eyes (carved into the quarry face) and an assemblage of quarry and other stone tools. Adjacent to a free standing topknot, geophysical survey additionally reavealed a possible track/ Ara Pukao within the crater.
Spanish abstract pending. This reports describes excavations conducted by the Rapa Nui Landscapes of Construction Project in 2013 within the crater of Maunga Puna Pau, the quarry on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) from which red scoria topknots or pukao were extracted. The excavations further explored a stable landsurface between layers of in situ and colluvial quarry tailings, delved deeper into the underlying quarry tailings, revealed a previously unknown "cave" (which contained human remains) cut into the quarry face, and added to an assemblage of quarry and other stone tools. A new trench located over a possible track/ Ara Pukao within the crater revealed in 2012 by geophysical survey identified two or more further stable landsurfaces—here interpreted as an Ara Pukao—within the qurry tailings.
This reports describes excavations conducted by the Rapa Nui Landscapes of Construction Project in 2013 within the crater of Maunga Puna Pau, the quarry on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) from which red scoria topknots or pukao were extracted. The excavations further explored a stable landsurface between layers of in situ and colluvial quarry tailings, delved deeper into the underlying quarry tailings, revealed a previously unknown "cave" (which contained human remains) cut into the quarry face, and added to an assemblage of quarry and other stone tools. A new trench located over a possible track/ Ara Pukao within the crater revealed in 2012 by geophysical survey identified two or more further stable landsurfaces—here interpreted as an Ara Pukao—within the qurry tailings.
Mike Seager Thomas
added 22 research items
For the most part the ceremonial platforms (ahu) of Rapa Nui/Easter Island, have been studied in terms of their constructional elements, their chronology, and the spatial density and distribution of specific architectural types. This stage of the Rapa Nui Landscapes of Construction project by contrast focus on the role of ‘place’ in social practice and raises different questions concerning how Rapa Nui monumental landscapes were conceived and constructed. The method used was to systematically walk the ahu landscapes and to combine textual recording with GPS satellite mapping of the landscape and locale-specific characteristics of the ahu and their associated architectural components. This work was guided by a focus on body-centred sensory perceptions of space (phenomenology), in particular perceptions of visibility, sound, and the orientations of features and place with respect to human body positioning and the sea. The term ‘ahu landscape’ here refers to the landscape setting of an ahu. This landscape geography includes both the backspace at the rear of an ahu, and the front space that classically comprises a plaza and inland associated settlement and land use structures, and also the lateral inter-ahu landscape.
By considering the stones of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) on a landscape scale, their sources, properties and elemental use in architecture during the statue production period and beyond – from modest ovens to immense statues, a case is made that stone and stones were an essential connective substance of Rapa Nui society. It is posited that stone connected understandings of the land and sea both directly and inversely, that it expressed through colour the sacred status of the ancestors, and that it aligned human life-cycles with the natural lives of stone and stones. Work with stone on Rapa Nui was potentially sacred work and to harvest and move stone required that places and people were linked in face-to-face and hand-to-hand labour. This related to far more than the task of making and sometimes moving colossal statues. Whole beaches or at least their stones were transposed from sea to land and a wide range of land and sea stones were used conjointly to create webs of meaning on an island-wide scale.
The Pitt-Rivers Museum holds c. 667 artefacts from Rapa Nui and c. 93 from Pitcairn Island, most of them collected by the Katherine and Scoresby Routledge expedition of 1914/15. Together they provide a key resource for the study of the prehistoric material culture of the two Islands.