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Sources of drinking water on islands often present critical constraints to human habitation. On Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile), there is remarkably little surface fresh water due to the nature of the island’s volcanic geology. While several lakes exist in volcanic craters, most rainwater quickly passes into the subsurface and emerges at coastal springs. Nevertheless, the island sustained a relatively large human population for hundreds of years, one that built an impressive array of monumental platforms (ahu) and statues (moai). To understand how Rapanui acquired their scarce fresh water, we review ethnohistoric data from first European arrival (1722) through the mid-twentieth century. Ethnohistoric accounts identify a diversity of freshwater sources and describe various Rapanui freshwater management strategies. Our findings highlight the importance of coastal freshwater seeps and provide much-needed insight into how Rapanui procured this vital and necessary resource.
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VOLUM E 128 No.2 JU NE 2019
University of California at Santa Barbara
University of Oregon
Binghamton University
University of Arizona
ABSTRACT: Sources of drinking water on islands often present critical constraints
to human habitation. On Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile), there is remarkably little
surface fresh water due to the nature of the island’s volcanic geology. While several
lakes exist in volcanic craters, most rainwater quickly passes into the subsurface and
emerges at coastal springs. Nevertheless, the island sustained a relatively large human
population for hundreds of years, one that built an impressive array of monumental
platforms (ahu) and statues (moai). To understand how Rapanui acquired their scarce
fresh water, we review ethnohistoric data from rst European arrival (1722) through
the mid-twentieth century. Ethnohistoric accounts identify a diversity of freshwater
sources and describe various Rapanui freshwater management strategies. Our ndings
highlight the importance of coastal freshwater seeps and provide much-needed insight
into how Rapanui procured this vital and necessary resource.
Keywords: Rapa Nui (Easter Island), coastal springs, freshwater management, puna
(wells), ethnohistory, Polynesia
Here is no safe anchorage; no wood for fuel; nor any fresh water worth
taking on board.
—Captain James Cook, March 1774
Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile) evokes a rich array of superlatives, both
positive and negative. On the one hand, the island boasts almost 1,000
multi-ton statues (moai), several hundred of which were transported across
the volcanic landscape and placed on top of massive stone platforms (ahu)
(Hochstetter et al. 2011). For these accomplishments, Rapa Nui is known
as one of the world’s greatest examples of prehistoric megalithic monument
construction. On the other hand, the island is small (164 km2), remote (nearly
Journal of the Polynesian Society, 2019, 128 (2): 163–189. DOI:
The Ethnohistory of Freshwater Use on Rapa Nui
2,000 km from Pitcairn Island and 3,500 km from the coast of Chile) and
poorly endowed with natural resources (Fig. 1). The subtropical climate,
variable rainfall, unproductive soils and lack of large coral reefs, lagoon or
timber oered signicant challenges to Rapanui. mong these challenges,
the scarcity of drinking water may have been the greatest. Despite these
limitations, Rapanui ourished and left a spectacular legac.
Reliabl sucient fresh water is a biophsical constraint that determines
whether habitats can support human communities. As Rapa Nui has
unpredictable rainfall and lacks permanent streams, fresh water has always
been a limited resource on the island. As Thomson (1891: 489) commented
during his 1886 visit, he greatest mster is how such a number of
people obtained a sucient suppl of fresh water. hile Rapa Nui does
have a few crater lakes and numerous coastal freshwater seeps (Brosnan et al.
2018 errera and Custodio 2008), places to access freshwater resources
are relatively scarce, patchy and likely predictable, which makes them good
candidates for highly contested and “economically defendable” resources
(Dson-udson and mith 1978 DiNapoli and Morrison 2017). Indeed, man
argue that the distribution of this scarce et vital resource had a major inuence
on the structure of Rapanui settlement locations and patterns of competitive
interaction (e.g., DiNapoli et al. 2019 McCo 1976 Rull 2016, 2018, 2019
o g t a n d   h l e m 2 0 1 8  o g t a n d M o s e r 2 0 1 0 ) .  n c e r t a i n t i e s a n d d e b a t e s
persist, however, about the range of freshwater sources used and which sources
were likely the most important in the past. While ethnohistoric evidence
can better resolve the locations and strategies of traditional freshwater
procurement, as well the potential archaeological signatures of these strategies,
the ethnohistoric record has been largely overlooked on this topic.
ere, we oer a sstematic review of the Rapa Nui ethnohistoric accounts
to better resolve patterns of traditional freshwater use and management. Using
written accounts from European visitors to Rapa Nui between 1722 (Jacob
Roggeveen) and 1955 (Thor Heyerdahl), we review known sources of fresh
water and document strategies used by Rapanui for freshwater procurement
and storage. We document the use of fresh water from both natural and
constructed contexts including crater lakes, inland springs, coastal seeps,
lava tubes/caves and constructed “wells” (puna), rainwater catchment basins
(taheta) and reservoirs. e also brie discuss historic accounts that describe
the use of plants that may have had key roles in traditional Rapanui water-
resource management. hese historic accounts provide signicant insight into
the relative importance of dierent water procurement strategies and help
provide the basis for generating hypotheses about Polynesian adaptations
to freshwater scarcit and the inuence of freshwater scarcit on Rapanui
community patterning. While Rapanui used a range of freshwater sources,
our review of the historical and archaeological evidence suggests that natural
coastal seeps and constructed puna were likely of critical importance.
Sean W. Hixon, Robert J. DiNapoli, Carl P. Lipo and Terry L. Hunt 165
Rapa Nui is a volcanic island formed through hot-spot volcanism starting
around 2.5 Myr (million years) ago (Bonatti et al. 1977 eoli and cocella
2009). Between 2.5 and 0.18 Myr ago, a series of eruptions created Poike
and Rano Kau on the northeastern and southwestern corners of the island,
respectively (Fig. 2). Starting approximately 360,000 kyr (thousand years)
ago, numerous lava ows from two main fracture sstems created erevaka,
which currentl dominates the geolog of the island. ava ows that created
Tere vaka ar e quite young, a nd some date to as recent ly as 10 kyr ago (Vezzoli
and Acocella 2009).
hese largel jointed basalt lava ows that characterise the island constitute
what Herrera and Custodio (2008: 1333) term a large-scale “high permeability
apron” and hold dramatic consequences for the hydrology of the island.
Although the island enjoys abundant rainfall (a maximum of approximately
2,100 mm/r on the summit of erevaka tevenson et al. 2015), its porous
substrate largely prevents the pooling of surface water and limits easy access
Figure 1. ocation of Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile) in the southeastern acic.
The Ethnohistory of Freshwater Use on Rapa Nui
for terrestrial ora and fauna (errera and Custodio 2008: 1331). Instead,
the highly permeable volcanic apron rapidly transmits much of the water
to the islands subterranean auifer, which has elevations that average onl
a few metres above sea level (masl) (Brosnan et al. 2018 eferjahn 2016).
Consequently, rain falling onto the surface of the island quickly vanishes
and rarely (only intermittently after torrential downpours) forms streams or
surface ponds. his phenomenon is often reected in comments b visitors.
For example, rown (1924 1979: 25) noted that a half an hour after a
downpour the ground is as dry as before it” and that “the greatest defect of
the island is its porous character”.
iven Rapa Nuis porous substrate, water entering the ground ows
through cracks and fractures in the bedrock. Where the land intersects the
ocean, fresh groundwater seeps out into the sea (Fig. 3). his ow can
occur at the surface as coastal springs or seeps, or underwater as submarine
groundwater discharge (Kim et al. 2003 Montgomer  ssociates 2011),
which is an overlooked water resource in many parts of the world (Moosdorf
and Oehler 2017). he coastal fringe of the island, therefore, can oer
locations for people to access groundwater relatively easily. On Rapa Nui,
coastal springs exist in many areas along the coast and are easily accessible
during low tide (Brosnan et al. 2018 eferjahn 2016).
The height of the water table on Rapa Nui is fairly low and typically
between 1 and 3 masl (lamos  eralta 1992 errera and Custodio 2008
Montgomery & Associates 2011). The amount of fresh water contained
within the island is substantial, and signicant ows emerge along the
coast. Although there exist uncertainties in the values of coastal substrate
transmissivity and hydraulic gradient, Montgomery & Associates (2011)
estimate a recharge rate of between 3,200 and 4,700 L/s. This rate is impressive
when one considers that even a fraction of a percent of this discharge could
supply a population of over 5,000 (Herrera and Custodio 2008: 1346).
Though accessible at the points where it emerges at the coast, these
sources of water tend to be brackish due to the mixing of seawater with fresh
groundwater in both surface and subsurface mixing zones. On Rapa Nui,
this mixing zone is evidently thick, for salt water intrudes into near-coastal
springs to create salinity levels of greater than 1,000 mg/L Cl (Herrera
and Custodio 2008: 1329). While humans can survive with brackish water,
there are limits to the salinity that the body can tolerate. On Rapa Nui, it is
estimated that 90 percent of the populations salt intake might have come
from brackish water consumption (Brosnan et al. 2018 Norton 1992).
Sean W. Hixon, Robert J. DiNapoli, Carl P. Lipo and Terry L. Hunt 167
Figure 2. Rapa Nui and sources of fresh water mentioned in historical accounts
DEM sourced from
The Ethnohistory of Freshwater Use on Rapa Nui
European accounts of Rapa Nui began with the arrival of the Dutch
captain Jacob Roggeveen, who sighted the island on Easter Sunday, 1722.
Roggeveens visit was a short one of just two das. Nearl ve decades
passed until the Spanish captain Don Felipe González arrived in 1770. This
visit was followed in 1774 by the English captain James Cook and then in
1786 b French explorer Jean-Franois alaup de a rouse. fter this
time, European explorers, missionaries, traders, whalers and, most tragically,
slave raiders repeatedl visited Rapa Nui (Fischer 2005 Maude 1981).
These earlier voyagers made a variety of observations about the natural and
cultural features they encountered on the island (Richards 2008), including
fresh water and its uses.
he rst relativel thorough descriptions of the islands archaeolog can be
traced to John Linton Palmer, who arrived as a surgeon on the HMS Topaze
in 1868. In a brief account, almer (1870) provided some of the rst basic
descriptions of four ahu that he references on a map. eiseler (1883 1995)
added details to these basic descriptions. he rst comprehensive surve
of the island comes from William J. Thomson (1891). During his visit,
Thomson walked the coastline of Rapa Nui and described 113 ahu. In 1914,
Katherine Routledge (1919) travelled to Rapa Nui and spent 16 months doing
survey, excavations and interviews that resulted in detailed archaeological
and ethnographic information on the island and its inhabitants. In 1934–35,
lfred Mtraux (1940, 1957) of the Franco-elgian expedition conducted
Figure 3. Schematic of hydrogeological model for Rapa Nui. Water from rainfall
uickl enters the porous volcanic ground and ows towards the coast.
Fresh water oats atop salt water that enters the ground from the ocean.
At low tide, the lens of fresh water emerges at the coast. Where fresh
water mixes with salt water, the resulting water is brackish.
Sean W. Hixon, Robert J. DiNapoli, Carl P. Lipo and Terry L. Hunt 169
ethnographic documentation that expanded upon Routledges work. t
around the same time, Father ebastian Englert, a Catholic priest and prolic
observer, arrived and lived on the island for more than 30 ears. Englerts
(1948, 1970) detailed documentation of more than 40 natural freshwater
sources and numerous water-management features provides a signicant
source of knowledge on these issues. In 1955–56, Thor Heyerdahl led an
international team for eld research on Rapa Nui that included extensive
documentation and excavations (Heyerdahl and Ferdon 1961).
One feature that unites these visitors and distinguishes them from more
recent researchers is their heavy reliance on traditional local sources of fresh
water during their visits. Since the mid-twentieth century, residents and
visitors have become dependent on obtaining drinking water from wells sunk
into the deep groundwater or from imported bottled water. Predating the era
of contemporary well technology or regular and frequent cargo deliveries,
residents, visitors and foreign researchers had to nd drinkable water where
the could. hus, these historic notes oer relativel keen observations
about the islands freshwater resources. More importantl, while these earlier
ethnohistoric sources are often fragmentary, they provide some of the best
available evidence for freshwater use by ancient Rapanui.
Coastal Groundwater Discharge
The earliest European visitors on Rapa Nui provide only limited information
about the sources of fresh water used b Rapanui. During the rst European
visit in 1722, Roggeveen makes no reference to fresh water, though Captain
Cornelis Bouman, in command of the Thienhoven, mentions water obtained
by local populations that he “tasted and found to be quite brackish” (von
Saher 1994: 99). Given the hydrogeology of the island described above, it is
likel that oumans brackish water came from a coastal seep.
While the 1770 visit by the Spanish provides only a brief comment on the
brackish nature of the drinking water they were provided with (Ruiz-Tagle
2004), the expedition in 1774 led by Captain Cook provides more details
about fresh water on Rapa Nui. Cook (Ruiz-Tagle 2004: 160), for example,
notes that Rapanui brought members of the English expedition that had
travelled inland to “brackish and stinking” water that was only “rendered
acceptable by the extremity of their thirst”. Later, Cook mentions that the
islanders even brought the inland party “real salt water” (p. 162). The fact
that some of the islanders “drank pretty plentifully” of this seawater shocked
Cook, who comments that “so far will necessity and custom get the better
of nature (p. 162).
Cook indirectly mentions the source of this apparent seawater when he
refers to the water collected from Rapa Nui: “The little we took on board
could not be made use of it being onl salt water which had ltrated through
The Ethnohistory of Freshwater Use on Rapa Nui
a stony beach, into a stone well. This the natives had made for the purpose, a
little to the outhward of the sand beach so often mentioned and the water
ebbed and owed into it with the tide (p. 167). hrough this reference, Cook
became the rst European to mention Rapanui use of a freshwater resource
that is now recognised as a coastal seep (Fig. 4).
Cooks naturalist, Johann Forster, made specic notes about the lack of
water on the island and correctl identies the role of the islands geolog.
e notes that water availabilit is inuenced b those dierent porous
substances, dry and burnt, that make the island dry and arid, as the rain
gets absorbed and the plants cannot draw water from the dry and spongy
ground, so the are not able to spread sucientl to cover the soil and
retain humidit, so necessar for the vegetation. his drness inuences
not only the vegetable kingdom, but also animals and people” (Jakubowska
Figure 4. Coastal seep behind Ahu Tongariki on the south coast of Rapa Nui.
This location is likely near where Routledge took a photograph of a
freshwater pool emerging at the coast. The 1960 tsunami, however,
dramatically altered the area. Here, Tanya Brosnan (California State
University Long Beach) measures the conductivity of the water to
determine the relative salt content. Photograph by Carl Lipo, 2015.
Sean W. Hixon, Robert J. DiNapoli, Carl P. Lipo and Terry L. Hunt 171
2014: 79). He also comments that much of the water consumed was brackish
given the mixing that occurs at coastal seeps between the ocean and fresh
groundwater. For example, Forster (p. 83) states “water from several wells
existing on the island is his usual drink it is almost alwas brackish or has
an admixture of other saline solutions, nevertheless that does not render it
nasty or unhealthy for the inhabitants”. His mention of “wells” likely refers
to traditional features called puna, which we discuss in more detail below.
The use of coastal groundwater discharge directly at the tide line, however,
caused some confusion among Europeans as to whether Rapanui were capable
of drinking directl out of the ocean. Forster (1777 2000: 323), for example,
notes that “some of our people really saw them drink of the sea-water when
they were thirsty”. Later observers often made the same mistaken observation.
a rouse (Dos assos 1971: 61), who visited the island in 1786, writes, I
have seen the natives of Easter Island drink the sea water like the albatrosses
at Cape Horn.” This misunderstanding of the use of coastal groundwater
discharge gained popular use through the early nineteenth century when
numerous whaling ships stopped by the island for supplies. For example,
James Wolf (Richards 2008: 54), a mate on the HMS Blossom, writes during
his ships visit to the island in November 1825: rouse sas he had seen
these people drink salt water like the albatross o Cape orn, though his
ocers discovered a spring of less saline nature. his fact I ma collaborate
by one of our party having witnessed a native stooping down on the rocks and
slaking his thirst from the water of the great acic Ocean. later account b
Captain Du Petit-Thouars of the Venus in February 1838 omits any mention
of even brackish water and instead claims that “the natives are accustomed to
drinking sea water” (p. 75). Though Rapanui use of coastal seeps evidently
existed through this time, many early European visitors apparently lacked a
clear understanding of what they were seeing.
William Thomson, paymaster aboard the USS Mohican, visited the island
in 1886. During his visit, homson noted at least ve locations around the
coast that provided fresh water (Fig. 2), and most of the water he found was
likely from coastal seeps. As he observes: “The so-called springs are holes
into which the sea-water percolates, and are as salt sicas the ocean, at
high tide, and decidedly brackish at all other stages” (Thomson 1891: 491).
Writing in 1919, Katherine Routledge provides an excellent description of
the hydrology of the island. She states that “owing to the porous nature of the
ground the water sinks beneath the surface, sometimes forming underground
channels from which it ows into the sea below high-water mark: thus giving
rise to the curious statement of early voyagers that the natives were able to
drink salt water” (Routledge 1919: 132). Routledge provides a photo of a
pool formed by water emerging from the ground along the coast behind Ahu
Tongariki (Fig. 4).
The Ethnohistory of Freshwater Use on Rapa Nui
t the time of Routledges visit, the dominant use of the islands landscape
was for sheep ranching. Beginning in 1888, the Williamson-Balfour Company
managed up to 60,000 sheep on Rapa Nui and used islanders as indentured
labourers (Fischer 2005). In 1920, with the visit of biological engineer
William Bryan, the ranch management started to recognise the value of
coastal groundwater discharge for providing fresh water to the sheep herds.
In his report including recommendations to increase ranch productivity, Bryan
considers blasting shallow wells at seepage sites and euipping them with
small windmills” (Porteous 1981: 135).
In sum, the available historical descriptions of traditional freshwater use
highlight the importance of coastal seeps for Rapanui people in the eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries. he association of signicant archaeological
material around coastal seeps (i.e., ahu and moai) strongly suggests that
these sources of drinking water were also key during pre-contact times
(DiNapoli et al. 2019).
Wells (Puna)
One inherent drawback to reliance on coastal groundwater discharge is its
relativel high salinit from mixing with seawater. rown (1924 1979: 25)
claims that Rapanui “never made salt like the Hawaiians, and never took salt
water as a seasoning like the other Polynesians” to accommodate the relatively
high levels of salt intake associated with use of coastal groundwater. Rapanui
also possibly reduced their salt intake by accessing groundwater inland of
the coastal mixing zone. As Herrera and Custodio (2008: 1340) describe,
however, “there is no clear relationship between water-table elevation and
salinit, and distance to the shore and salinit, although the trend is to nd
higher salinity closer to the shore.”
Though lower levels of salinity can be found in more inland groundwater,
these sources are more dicult to access given the islands low-ling water
table. With modern drilling technology, it turns out that many inland sources
are only moderately less saline than coastal groundwater. For example,
samples collected from a borehole in Hanga Roa about 1.3 km from the coast,
where the land surface is around 100 masl, yielded a slightly brackish salinity
value (570 mg/L Cl) in 2002 and a somewhat fresh salinity value (484 mg/L
Cl) in 2003 (Herrera and Custodio 2008: 1337). These borehole samples
are admittedly half as saline as the coastal groundwater samples and thus
of greater use for drinking (p. 1337). It is important to keep in mind that the
elevation of the water table at the Hanga Roa borehole is 2.35 masl and that
digging wells to a depth of nearly 100 m without modern equipment would
be highly impractical (p. 1334). Thus, deciding where to build a well with
the maximum ease of construction and minimum salinity levels becomes a
problem of optimisation.
Sean W. Hixon, Robert J. DiNapoli, Carl P. Lipo and Terry L. Hunt 173
hile Rapa Nuis thick and porous volcanic apron makes inland
groundwater virtually inaccessible without modern drilling equipment, it
does not eliminate the practicality of near-coastal wells. Several historic
accounts mention the use of both inland and near-shore wells, thus suggesting
that such wells did provide a useful source of relatively fresh groundwater. In
1774, Georg Forster noted the use of shallow coastal wells that were likely
associated with areas of coastal groundwater discharge. Forster (1777 2000:
327) writes, e met Captain Cook, whom the natives had conducted
to a well very close to the sea, which was cut deep into the rock, but full
of impurities. When our people had cleared it, they found the water in it
rather brackish, but the natives drank of it with much seeming satisfaction.”
imilarl, in 1786, a rouse (Dos assos 1971: 61) notes that a little
brackish water was found in some holes on the sea shore”.
In 1868, almer provided the rst account that identied a specic location
for a shallow near-coastal well (puna, Fig. 2). Palmer (1870: 168) states:
s to the suppl of fresh water on the island, a good deal of misappre-
hension has existed. In several of the craters there are many deep pools of
it in those of the erano ao Rano au these are full 25 feet deep, and I
have tasted it pure and fresh from many places, near the shore. At Winipoo
inapu, not onl is there a subterranean reservoir (to which a tunnel leads
from the face of the cli), but on the ver sea beach the natives have made a
cistern to catch the water which distils from a little tunnel.
In this passage, Palmer mentions the location of a coastal seep that is near Ahu
Vinapu on the southwest coast of the island. He also points out that water is
available in the crater lakes and in at least one cave (we discuss descriptions
of these additional sources of fresh water below).
Thomson (1891: 491) later mentions a puna during his visit, but he also
calls the feature a cistern. pecicall, at a location on the south coast near
Tongariki, he (p. 491) describes a set of features in which “only the remains
of walls and cisterns were found ... They were generally small, the largest
being 9 feet in diameter, 14 feet deep, and surrounded by a sloping bank
paved with small stones to facilitate the collection of rain water.”
Mtraux (1940) makes the rst detailed discussion of puna, which are
euivalent to the relativel shallow near-coastal wells rst noted b eorg
Forster and later described as cisterns b almer and homson. Mtraux
(p. 11) states that puna served a double function as reservoirs “which
impounded rain water and perhaps some fresh water springs”. He adds
signicance to such wells b observing that ruins of ancient settlements
are alwas thick around water holes (p. 11). Mtraux (1940: 11) goes on
to describe a puna (Fig. 5):
The Ethnohistory of Freshwater Use on Rapa Nui
A deep ditch, between 2 and 3 meters deep, is dug near the shore. The seaward,
lateral sides are perpendicular and lined with stones perfectl tted. he
landward side slopes at an angle of 45 degrees to the base of the opposite
wall and is paved with boulders. After a rain the running water is led to the
interior of the basin where, at the same time, water from the underground
water body collects ... According to my informant, there is always water in
them even though it does not rain.
Puna, therefore, enabled people to both access groundwater and reduce its
salinity by limiting mixing with seawater and aiding rainwater catchment.
Mtraux (1957: 65) specicall adds that the ancestors of the modern natives
sought to prevent salt water from mingling with the fresh by constructing
walls that formed a kind of reservoir”.
Mtraux (1940: 11) provides a specic location for one of these features
at Vai a Hoa near Ovahe on the north shore. He also mentions that “at Tahai
there is a kind of basin, separated from the sea by a wall, where fresh water
mixes with salt water” (p. 11). Such walls designed for pooling coastal
groundwater are likel similar to those noted b members of Cooks 1774
expedition.  the time of Mtrauxs writings, however, onl the cattle are
watered there” (p. 11), and he notes that “a few of these reservoirs or springs
still contain water, but most of them are lled with mud (Mtraux 1957: 65
see also Englert 1948: 219).
Heyerdahl (1961: 26) also notes the close association of puna with areas
of coastal groundwater discharge when he writes that “a short distance inland
from such places of coastal seeps, Rapanui had occasionall constructed
an articial well with retaining masonr walls. ike Mtraux, eerdahl
(p. 26) noticed that the water in puna becomes brackish when it is mixed
with salt water at high tide.
Englert records an oral tradition relevant to the discussion of puna.
According to this oral tradition, the scarcity of fresh water on Rapa Nui
concerned otu Matua (the legendar rst settler on the island). Englert
(1970: 84) records, otu Matuas concern led him to the discover that
shallow wells could be excavated on the extreme edge of the coast, which
would produce water somewhat contaminated b the sea but still t for human
use. He had such wells dug at several points.” Though the age of this oral
tradition cannot be established, it does suggest the past importance and early
use of puna and coastal seeps.
Recognising the essential role that freshwater sources have for
communities, Englert (1948) provided one of the most comprehensive
summaries of locations in which water was collected (see Fig. 2). Englert
(p. 219) notes that these coastal seeps are quite abundant but often brackish
and thus likely were the main dietary source of salt. He (p. 220) lists 21 coastal
seep locations but admits that these are merel the signicant locations, the
Sean W. Hixon, Robert J. DiNapoli, Carl P. Lipo and Terry L. Hunt 175
full list being beyond the scope of his book. These include Mataveri o tai,
Tahai, Hanga Kaokao, Hanga Kuakua, Te Ava Renga, Te Puna rere takatea,
Mauku roa, e ito ura, a rouse (ekii), anga auvaka, Mahatua,
e akatea, una a Moeto, anga uu ata, na aitu, ai Moai, anga
Tetenga, Akahanga, Vaihu/Hanga Tee, Hanga He Mu and Koreha puoko viri.
Some of these features are quite elaborate. Vai Moai, for example, is a large
constructed well located between anga uu ata and anga etenga that
consists of a paved slope 5 m wide and 80 m long (p. 220). Similarly, Englert
(p. 221) describes the well at Vaihu/Hanga Tee as composed of a long tank
that once defended fresh water against mixing with seawater.
Inland Springs and Reservoirs
prings occur where a groundwater auifer is lled to the point that the water
overows onto the land surface. owever, the porous nature of the islands
geology provides only limited areas where springs occur above the coastline.
Observations from the Spanish expedition to Rapa Nui in 1770 give one
reference to an inland spring. pecicall, ublieutenant Don Juan erv
Figure 5. A coastal well (puna) feature located on the north coast of Rapa Nui
near hu Raai. hotograph b err unt, 2015.
The Ethnohistory of Freshwater Use on Rapa Nui
provides only a passing reference to a spring that his group discovered when
they dug pits for planting three wooden crosses on the northeastern side of
the island: t the moment of digging the hole on the centre hill, a ne spring
of fresh water broke out, very good and abundant” (Ruiz-Tagle 2004: 91).
Cook (Ruiz-Tagle 2004: 161) too notes the existence of an inland spring
when he writes that “towards the Eastern end of the island, they met with
a well whose water was perfectly fresh, being considerably above the level
of the sea”. Cook (p. 161) also mentions that the islanders used this well to
bathe. In contrast to this perfectly fresh spring, Cook (p. 285) notes that “on
the declivit of the mountain erevaka towards the est, the met with
another well but the water was a ver strong mineral, had a thick green scum
on the top, and stunk intolerably”.
eorg Forster of Cooks expedition also mentions the use of an inland well.
Forster (1777 2000: 590) notes, From this spot we continued our march
a good way inland, and were conducted to a deep well, which appeared to
have been formed by art, and contained good fresh water, though somewhat
troubled.” The inland locations and elevations of the described wells suggest
that these wells were built around perched springs that formed due to the
few impermeable volcanic dikes that crosscut the islands porous apron.
While such features are relatively rare on Rapa Nui, Englert (1948: 218–19)
documents about one dozen inland springs: Vai inu-inu, Puna Pau, Roiho,
Vai teka, Vai taka-tiki, Vai tapu iru, Te Pahu, Roiko, Puna Marengo, Vai
ru, ai ara ai a, na o eke and Oroi. Mtraux (1957: 66) documents
two of these features. Dudgeon and Tromp (2014) use freshwater diatoms
identied in the dental calculus of prehistoric Rapanui to argue for past
reliance on inland spring water. Still, the output of these springs likely pales in
comparison to that of coastal seeps. Additionally, the correspondence between
the abundance of freshwater diatoms in dental calculus and the magnitude of
reliance on fresh versus brackish drinking water is unclear.
hus, in cases when the subsurface lacked sucient permeabilit for
fresh water to immediately enter the ground, it appears that Rapanui people
modied the landscape to create pools. he best-known example of this
activity can be found at Ava Ranga Uka A Toroke Hau (Vogt and Moser
2010). In a gully that runs south from Terevaka and near an ahu, Vogt and
Kühlem (2018) have documented an elaborate set of water-retention features
that include a stone-lined basin and possible dam feature. Stevenson (1997:
142) has also documented similar features possibly used for water diversion
at the agricultural complex on Maunga Tari. Such features on the island are
rare, yet further detailed surveys might reveal similar inland structures.
It should be noted that some authors (e.g., Heyerdahl and Ferdon 1961)
claim that ravines on the slopes of Terevaka are indicative that the island
Sean W. Hixon, Robert J. DiNapoli, Carl P. Lipo and Terry L. Hunt 177
once was much wetter and that streams were present. Heyerdahl (1961: 26),
for example, notes, “A limited number of dry ravines are observed in the
basalt on the north coast, some with series of whirlpool depressions and other
apparent evidence of such a considerable water erosion that it is tempting
to suspect that the once contained permanent streams. Mtraux, however,
correctl noted that the little ravines known as ava that furrow the slopes
of its hills are volcanic in origin (Mtraux 1957: 65). Indeed, the porous
substrate can account for the absence of permanent streams even during
relatively wet times.
Lava Tubes and Caves
The subsurface of Rapa Nui is relatively rich in caves and lava tubes (Ciszewski
et al. 2009). hese tubes form when lava ows beneath the hardened surface.
s solid basalt, the oors of these tubes can be impermeable and can collect
substantial amounts of fresh water that percolates from the surface.
In 1774, eorg Forster became the rst European visitor to mention
the presence of caverns on Rapa Nui, but he states that his group did not
enter any of them because “the natives always refused to admit us” (Forster
1777 2000: 341). almer (1870: 168) later mentions a subterranean
reservoir” that exists in a lava tube pool at Vinapu. Routledge provides
an extensive discussion of Rapa Nui caves, but she mostly describes them
as places of burial and storage. She does mention, however, that “in one
district underground was lled with water extend to a great length, and the
whole surface rings hollow to the tread of a horse” (Routledge 1919: 272).
Unfortunately, Routledge does not specify whether or not this water is fresh.
Heyerdahl comments that lava tubes provided useful access to freshwater
springs and claims that “subterranean springs with evidence of early human
improvements are  located at the oor of some of the deepest and largest
underground caves, especially inland from Ovahe bay and near Vaihu”
(Heyerdahl 1961: 26). He also notes that “a dependable subterranean water
pool with good fresh water is found inland in the rocks of Vai-tara-kau-ua,
where the fairl deep descent to the pool is articiall narrowed b large
blocks, barely allowing a passage wide enough for one person” (p. 26).
Given the limited references to freshwater use in lava tubes, little can be
said on the topic based on European accounts. It is possible that they were
used throughout the historic period outside of the observations of European
visitors. While caves are fairly common, the presence of water sources in
them is less consistent. When water was available, these sources were likely
used, although they were far sparser than the more consistent water found
along the coastal margins of the island.
The Ethnohistory of Freshwater Use on Rapa Nui
Crater Lakes
The only perennial bodies of surface fresh water on the island are the steep-
sided crater lakes that exist where there are impermeable volcanic cores. There
are three such lakes: in Rano Kau, Rano Raraku and Rano Aroi.
Given the size and depth of these three crater lakes and the lack of surface
water elsewhere on the island, it is tempting to believe that Rapanui made
early and extensive use of them. These bodies of water certainly have the
potential to provide relatively stable sources of fresh water. Butler and Flenley
(2010: 5), for example, argue that the lake at Rano Kau was “a permanent
water supply for early inhabitants”. Questioning the earliest dates known at
Anakena (cf. Hunt and Lipo 2006, 2008), Flenley and Bahn (2007: 11) argue,
Is it not more likel that the earl settlements would be near a good suppl
of fresh water, such as the crater lakes?”
While some researchers, in particular Rull and colleagues (e.g., Rull
2016, 2018, 2019 Rull et al. 2015, 2018), have recently emphasised the
importance of fresh water from the craters at Rano Raraku and Rano Kau,
even arguing that these were the only available water sources on the island
(e.g., Rull 2018), there is little historical or archaeological evidence that the
lakes were important sources of drinking water. There is some evidence, in
the form of terrace features and plant microfossils, that the lakes may have
been the focus of limited horticultural and/or domestic activity (e.g., Ferdon
1961a, 1961b orrocks, aisden, Flenle et al. 2012 orrocks, aisden,
Nieuwoudt et al. 2012 orrocks et al. 2015 McCo 1976). dditionall,
the area around Rano Raraku was the primary location of moai carving, and
the ceremonial site of Orongo on Rano au was the centre of the islands
famous Tangata Manu (“Bird Man”) ceremony. However, unlike areas along
the coast and spots inland, the edges of the lakes are comparatively devoid
of domestic features such as earth ovens (umu), gardens (manavai), areas of
lithic mulching, and houses that characterise much of the islands settlement
pattern (e.g., McCo 1976 Morrison 2012 tevenson and aoa Cardinali
2008). The lack of other resources (e.g., marine food, land for cultivation)
coupled with the steep walls of the volcanic craters, particularly at Rano
Kau, made habitation in these areas less attractive. Thus, while drinkable
water was available in the craters and likely consumed for activities that took
place in these areas, these lakes were likely not daily sources of drinking
water for pre-contact communities. Of course, further investigations into the
deposits around the lakes may shed additional light on this topic.
Historic accounts support the conclusion that prehistoric Rapanui did not
rely heavily on fresh water from the crater lakes. European visitors often
commented on the presence of these lakes, but none state that Rapanui relied
Sean W. Hixon, Robert J. DiNapoli, Carl P. Lipo and Terry L. Hunt 179
on these freshwater resources. In 1797, for example, John Myer, on board
the sperm-whaling ship William, joined a landing party that the islanders led
to Rano Raraku. e writes, everal of them Rapanui presented us with
water, and rewood, and made signs for us to follow them, which we did to
a small pond, lled with stagnant water, the surface of which was a mass of
animalcula, of a green colour (Richards 2008: 22). ainthill (1870 2000:
107), an ocer on the M Top a z e, observes that “though the craters contain
an abundant suppl of fresh water, our guides drank little. imilarl,
eiseler (1883 1995) notes that the crater lakes could be used in times of
emergency, but he does not provide any evidence for such use. He merely
states that the craters of Rana au Rano au and Rana Roraka Rano
Raraku alwas present the richest of freshwater reservoirs and these would
be capable of supplying the needs of a population even larger than the one on
Rapanui (eiseler 1883 1995: 75). dditionall, homson (1891) notes
that the water from the Rano Raraku lake is abundant but not particularly
palatable. He states: “Drinking-water, the great desideratum on the island,
obtained from sources that form the crater of Rana Roraka sic, was, owing
to its animal and vegetable impurities, unpalatable” (p. 491).
Later historic sources also indicate that crater lakes were not important
sources of fresh water. Routledge relied on water from Rano Raraku during
some of her 1917 visit, but she did so only in the absence of other, more
convenient sources. She notes that dependence on this water resource
“rendered us tiresomely dependent on getting native labor” (Routledge
1919: 137). rown (1924 1979: 25) also notes that Rapanui people used
water in the crater lakes for laundry at the time of his visit: “A procession
of native horsemen and horsewomen passes up the slope of Rano Kao here
every Saturday with bundles of clothes to wash.” Though Routledge and
rown present a few cases of crater-lake water use, Mtraux (1940: 12)
generally states that “the water of the crater lakes (rano)  is apparentl
too inaccessible to have been much used”. He goes on to write that the crater
lakes are dicult, and even dangerous, of access. oda as in the past the
natives only draw water from them under the pressure of extreme necessity”
(Mtraux 1957: 66). Englert (1948: 217) similarl suggests that the lakes
were not primar water sources for most of the islands population given
the relative dicult of access and lack of transport methods other than
gourds. eerdahls comments on the crater lakes mirror those of Englert
and Mtraux. eerdahl (1961: 26), however, adds that recent modern piping
from the lakes makes these reservoirs a more viable resource. Overall, despite
the relatively large amount of water held in the crater lakes, these sources of
fresh water appear to have been of limited use until quite recently.
The Ethnohistory of Freshwater Use on Rapa Nui
Carved Rainfall Basins: Taheta
As previously mentioned, puna serve a dual function by both allowing access
to groundwater and catching rainfall. Mtraux also mentions the possibilit
that the islanders previously carved basins into rock outcrops for the sole
purpose of rainfall catchment. Mtraux (1940: 12 see also Mtraux 1957: 66)
states, “I noticed on a few rocks near ancient settlements small rectangular
depressions articiall carved. he natives explained them as tanks to collect
rain water. Mtraux (1940: 11) mentions a water catchment basin at ai
a eva, where a hole in a cli where water collects has been carved all
around into the form of a big human face”. Englert (1948: 221–22) lists the
names of six well-known carved rainwater basins: Vai a Tare, Vai a Repa,
Vai a Mei, Vai uutu roroa, Vai a Heva and Vai a Are. He notes that there are
hundreds of other features like this across the landscape in small and large
sizes. These features are locally known as taheta and are typically ovoid or
square in shape and often relatively small (e.g., less than 1 m in diameter)
and shallow, though larger features occur (Fig. 6). Heyerdahl (1961: 26) also
records the presence of taheta at several locations (e.g., Puna Marengo and
Ahu Tepeu). In contemporary surveys, taheta features are quite common and
are among the most numerous of prehistoric features found on the landscape.
In Morrisons (2012) surve of the northwest coast, for example, taheta
comprise 5.5% of all the features found.
Though numerous, taheta likely served as only a secondary water source
for activities across the landscape and away from more substantial sources.
The fact that most taheta are small and shallow suggests limited investment in
them for long-term water storage. Englert (1948: 222) argues that these basins
would go dr without sucient rainfall and that Rapanui must have instead
relied more heavily on spring water. Indeed, recent estimates of evaporation
rates on Rapa Nui indicate that taheta cannot store sucient water during
the driest months (Brosnan et al. 2018). The timing and amount of rainfall
on Rapa Nui are highl variable. Morrisons (2012) analses of 60 ears of
rainfall demonstrate no regularity in the patterning of annual rainfall.
Despite Rapa Nuis unpredictable rainfall, references to rainfall catchments
exist in historic and modern contexts. In 1774, Forster (1777 2000: 341)
noted that the crew harnessed rainwater when a “smart shower falling on
board the ship, enabled our people to collect a quantity of fresh water in the
awnings and sails of the ship, which were spread to catch it”. Additionally,
Routledge (1919: 137) relied primarily on rainwater collected in barrels from
the roof at Mataveri. Mtraux (1940: 12) also notes that toda abundant water
from the corrugated iron roofs is collected in tanks or barrels”. Even as late
as the 1980s, Porteous (1981: 177) states that many residents in Mataveri
still “retain supplementary roof tanks” due to the slightly brackish nature of
the water pumped from modern wells.
Sean W. Hixon, Robert J. DiNapoli, Carl P. Lipo and Terry L. Hunt 181
Sugarcane, Gourds and Moss
Historical sources suggest that Rapanui used several plants for past water
procurement and storage. Mieth and Bork (2003) speculated that Rapanui
may have consumed sap of the palm Jubaea chilensis. However, it is the
consumption of sugarcane (Saccharum ocinarum) as a thirst quenching
plant that is documented in numerous historical accounts that start with Dutch
captain Cornelis ouman in 1722 (Dos assos 1971: 68 Forster 1777 2000:
327, 332 eiseler 1883 1995: 75 von aher 1994: 99 ainthill 1870
2000: 107 homson 1891: 456).
Additionally, past visitors noticed that gourds (Lagenaria siceraria) were
the primary tool for water transport. Bouman notes, “We found no furniture
or pots, except calabashes in which they kept water which I tasted and found
to be quite brackish” (von Saher 1994: 99). Though Cook observed that a
scarcity of gourds for water storage meant that “a cocoa-nut shell was the
most valuable thing we could give them” (Dos Passos 1971: 47), Thomson
(1891: 29) later witnessed a profusion of bottle gourds that grew on the island.
Englert (1948: 217) also notes the use of gourds for water storage. Relatively
late accounts that start with Routledge (1919: 256) suggest that Rapanui used
moss (Campylopus spp.) from the islands crater lakes to some extent as a
sponge to retain fresh water when at sea”.
Figure 6. A shallow carved stone basin (taheta) for capturing rainwater.
Photograph by Carl Lipo, 2015.
The Ethnohistory of Freshwater Use on Rapa Nui
E REIE IMORNCE OF R NI FREER ORCE
Our review of ethnohistoric evidence of freshwater use indicates that while
Rapanui used a range of natural freshwater sources (e.g., crater lakes,
inland springs, coastal seeps, caves, rainwater) and management strategies
(e.g., taheta, puna, large basins), some of these were likely more important
than others. Use of rainwater and taheta appear to be opportunistic and
impermanent solutions to the limited surface fresh water, as most taheta are
small and shallow and would dry up during times of low rainfall (Brosnan
et al. 2018). Inland springs and large water diversion and catchment features,
such as those discussed at Ava Ranga Uka A Toroke Hau by Englert (1948)
and identied archaeologicall b ogt and colleagues (ogt and hlem
2018 ogt and Moser 2010), were also used, but these were likel of lesser
importance given their limited numbers. Rano Kau and Rano Raraku were
important locations of ritual activity (the Tangata Manu ceremony and moai
carving, respectively), and the crater lakes were likely used as water sources
during these activities. However, ethnohistoric accounts suggest that the
crater lakes were not primary freshwater sources in the post-contact era,
likel because of their dicult of access. his is also clearl reected in the
archaeological record: the vast majority of pre-contact settlements are located
along the islands coasts and awa from the crater lakes. he ethnohistoric
and archaeological data indicate that coastal freshwater seeps, and the puna
constructed to impound this water, were some of the most numerous and most
often used freshwater sources. While ethnohistoric and hydrological studies
demonstrate that these sources are often brackish, they nevertheless provided
some of the most readily available sources of drinking water.
ow the use and abundance of dierent freshwater sources documented
in the ethnohistoric record relate to pre-contact times is a matter of debate.
Several researchers have suggested that deforestation and/or climate
changes directly reduced surface freshwater availability on the island (e.g.,
ahn and Flenle 1992, 2017 Mieth and ork 2018: 52 Rull 2018, 2019
Steadman et al. 1994 ogt and hlem 2018). ome have also suggested
that deforestation led to the disappearance of possible streams (e.g., Bahn and
Flenle 1992: 178 teadman et al. 1994: 93). he eects of deforestation
on freshwater availability are unclear, however, and limited existing
hydrogeological evidence supports these claims. Given the very porous nature
of the islands volcanic substrate, it is unlikel that perennial streams were
ever prominent on Rapa Nui. Even if we assume that the loss of the palm
forest decreased the amount of available surface fresh water, the process of
forest loss took several centuries (e.g., Horrocks et al. 2015 unt and ipo
2009 Mann et al. 2008) and would have led to the increased importance of
coastal freshwater seeps and the other water sources discussed.
Sean W. Hixon, Robert J. DiNapoli, Carl P. Lipo and Terry L. Hunt 183
Regarding possible climatically induced droughts, some evidence for
sedimentation and vegetation changes from cores taken from the islands
crater lakes suggests that a drought possibly occurred from the 1500s to 1700s
(e.g., Cañellas-Boltà et al. 2013 Rull 2016). Rull (2016, 2018, 2019) argues
that this drought would have necessitated population migration to Rano Kau to
access its fresh water as other sources, such as coastal seeps, became depleted.
While droughts are well documented historically and certainly would
have reduced fresh water available from taheta and the crater lakes (e.g., a
drought in 2018 left the crater lake at Rano Raraku nearly completely dry),
the impact on coastal seeps is uestionable. hile Rapa Nuis fresh water,
including in the crater lakes, is ultimately fed by rainwater, the discharge rates
and massive volume of the islands freshwater auifer suggest that coastal
groundwater could possibly remain a stable source even through drought
periods. he lakes would suer from not onl loss of water through subsurface
ows (Montgomer  ssociates 2011) but also greater evaporation than
groundwater. hus, it is possible that the impacts of drought would be rst
observed in the lakes, as is occurring now. While there is some evidence for
habitation and cultivation within and around Rano Kau crater, the density of
archaeological features around the lake is insucient to support claims of a
large-scale abandonment of coastal areas. Indeed, throughout pre-contact and
early historic times, most of the population lived along the coast, and both
the ethnohistoric evidence presented here and recent archaeological analyses
(e.g., DiNapoli et al. 2019) demonstrate the key importance of coastal water
sources for Rapanui communities.
* * *
s a volcanic island with a highl porous substrate, Rapa Nuis geolog makes
surface water scarce and inland groundwater dicult to access. Coupled
with unpredictable rainfall, these hydrogeological conditions necessitated
diverse and innovative strategies to procure this vital resource. Guided
b an understanding of the islands hdrogeolog and an examination of
ethnohistoric accounts, our review suggests that Rapanui used a number
of creative strategies to procure and store fresh water. While additional
chronological information about the use of these strategies is needed, many
of them (e.g., puna and taheta) are associated with pre-contact remains and
can be attributed to pre-European water-resource management. Early accounts
repeatedly noted Rapanui use of brackish water from pools in coastal areas.
These sources were abundant and often enhanced with constructed near-
coastal “wells” known as puna, which improved access to groundwater and
reduced its salinity. Water from coastal sources was likely stored using gourds
and supplemented with water from the crater lakes, inland springs, lava tubes,
The Ethnohistory of Freshwater Use on Rapa Nui
taheta and sugarcane. Historical and archaeological evidence suggest it is
unlikel that Rapanui relied heavil on water from the islands crater lakes,
which challenges recent claims that the crater lakes were the only or most
important sources of drinking water (e.g., Rull 2016, 2018, 2019 Rull et al.
2018). The diversity of freshwater procurement strategies and reliance on
coastal seeps highlights the successful adaptations and resilience of Rapanui
communities to the challenges posed b the islands marginal environment.
Overall, the ability of Rapanui to thrive despite their limited access to fresh
water is a remarkable feat that warrants recognition and further study through
archaeological and hdrogeological eld research.
Using this ethnohistoric information, in combination with recently
published hydrogeological data (Brosnan et al. 2018), we now have a solid
basis for generating hypotheses about how patterns in the archaeological
record relate to freshwater access. For example, it is worth considering how
the spatial distribution of communit patterning, in particular Rapa Nuis
dispersed settlement pattern (organised around group-level competitive and
cooperative behaviour connected to ahu), may be related to the constraints
imposed by the locations of fresh water on the island (e.g., DiNapoli et
al. 2018: 216–17 unt and ipo 2018 McCo 1976). Our recent spatial
analysis of the relationship between ahu and different environmental
variables suggests that ahu locations are closely tied to the availability of
fresh water and coastal freshwater sources in particular (DiNapoli et al.
2019). This analysis shows that previously described associations between
ahu and fresh water (e.g., ogt and hlem 2018 ogt and Moser 2010)
are indeed part of an island-wide pattern. However, further theoretical,
eld and analtical work is needed to more full evaluate hpotheses for
both the cooperative and competitive processes that underlie this pattern.
Importantly, resolving these issues requires additional baseline research,
such as functional classications of freshwater features like puna and taheta,
continued surveys of freshwater resources, and chronological data on the
development of these freshwater procurement strategies. For example,
chronological information on the development of puna would help resolve
current uncertainties about the relationship between periods of drought and
dierential use of coastal versus lacustrine fresh water. t the same time,
the demands on the islands water suppl continue to grow with increases in
the resident population, along with the ever-increasing numbers of tourists
(Figueroa and Rotarou 2016). As pumping from contemporary wells begins
to reach its limits, such information about historic sources of water likely
will become key to future communities on the island.
Sean W. Hixon, Robert J. DiNapoli, Carl P. Lipo and Terry L. Hunt 185
e would like to thank Comunidad Indgena Mau enua, Consejo de Monumentos
Rapa Nui, Consejo de Monumentos Chile, CONAF, COEIPA and the people of Rapa
Nui for allowing us to work on their island. We also thank Matt Becker and Tanya
Brosnan for their central contributions to the understanding of the hydrogeology of
Rapa Nui, and Hetereki Huke, Gina Pakarati and Tiare Aguilera for their guidance and
support, without which this research would not be possible. We also thank Melinda
Allen and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on the paper.
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Robert J. DiNapoli, Department of Anthropology, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon
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Carl P. Lipo, Department of Anthropology, Binghamton University, Binghamton, New
York 13902-6000, USA. Email:
Terry L. Hunt, Honors College, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85719, USA.
... Otherwise too deep to be accessible, this freshwater emerges at the coast, in many springs and seeps. The people of Rapa Nui built numerous stone wells (puna) along the coast to capture and store freshwater from groundwater seeps and rainfall, protecting it from saltwater intrusion, and creating small storage reservoirs for drinking water (DiNapoli et al., 2019;Hixon et al., 2019;Rull, 2020). While the two large crater lakes on the island likely supported extensive agriculture and large populations, in times of drought the coastal seeps may have been critical, more reliable water sources (Hixon et al., 2019;Rull, 2019Rull, , 2020. ...
... The people of Rapa Nui built numerous stone wells (puna) along the coast to capture and store freshwater from groundwater seeps and rainfall, protecting it from saltwater intrusion, and creating small storage reservoirs for drinking water (DiNapoli et al., 2019;Hixon et al., 2019;Rull, 2020). While the two large crater lakes on the island likely supported extensive agriculture and large populations, in times of drought the coastal seeps may have been critical, more reliable water sources (Hixon et al., 2019;Rull, 2019Rull, , 2020. Perhaps less well known but just as impressive are technologies that Indigenous peoples have created through the centuries that work with nature to control floods, store water for seasons of scarcity, and protect the quality of water supplies. ...
... Rapa Nui Stone dams that allow freshwater from coastal seeps to discharge and perch on top of more saline or brackish groundwater found at the coastal edge (DiNapoli et al., 2019;Hixon et al., 2019). ...
Key messages • Indigenous peoples and local communities around the world have developed nature-based, resilient, and sustainable solutions for water security based on traditional knowledge-practice-value systems. • Water sowing and harvesting technologies such as albarradas in Ecuador, sand dams in Africa, and wetland management and infiltration systems in Spain and the Andes work with nature to “sow” water for storage in soils, river sands, and groundwater, making water available for harvesting during times of water scarcity. • Integrated land and water management systems rely on managing ecosystem processes in combination with irrigation and terracing infrastructure to control the timing and supplies of water to complex agroforestry, rice or wet-pond taro cultivation, home gardens, and in some cases coastal fishponds and fisheries, as well as providing clean water for households. Predating contemporary integrated watershed and ecosystem-based management, these systems that emphasize protecting source watersheds are models of sustainably working and building with nature to manage water resources. • Continued viability of many of these practices is under threat, as Indigenous peoples and local communities remain marginalized in many countries, are under pressure from the forces of globalization, with lives and territories threatened in several places, and with traditional and Indigenous knowledge lost with the passing of older generations and forced migration. • However, these practices and the knowledge they are based on are being revitalized as Indigenous and local peoples lead movements to protect and revitalize their heritage, while scientists, conservationists, water managers, and governments increasingly recognize the value of these traditional nature-based solutions.
... The use of UAS for SGD detection has grown in popularity given the ability of these platforms to rapidly and inexpensively produce high-resolution maps of freshwater discharge sources (e.g., [8][9][10][11][12][13][14]). Here, we further demonstrate the utility of this approach in a study conducted on Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile, Figure 1), a small island in the southeastern Pacific where freshwater access has shown to be vital for understanding past and future communities [15][16][17][18][19]. Our research adds to the results of recent studies showing that SGD is plentiful on Rapa Nui and strongly associated with the locations of ancient settlements, and we hypothesize that the use of SGD by past communities represents a solution to the inherent and climate-induced surface freshwater scarcity on the island. ...
... The use of UAS for SGD detection has grown in popularity given the ability of these platforms to rapidly and inexpensively produce highresolution maps of freshwater discharge sources (e.g., [8][9][10][11][12][13][14]). Here, we further demonstrate the utility of this approach in a study conducted on Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile, Figure 1), a small island in the southeastern Pacific where freshwater access has shown to be vital for understanding past and future communities [15][16][17][18][19]. Our research adds to the results of recent studies showing that SGD is plentiful on Rapa Nui and strongly associated with the locations of ancient settlements, and we hypothesize that the use of SGD by past communities represents a solution to the inherent and climate-induced surface freshwater scarcity on the island. ...
... Archaeological research and ethnohistoric accounts document the use of a range of freshwater sources by Rapa Nui people [15][16][17]51]. Rainwater was collected in small (i.e., <1 m) carved stone basins called taheta. ...
Full-text available
Submarine groundwater discharge (SGD) is an important component of many coastal environments and hydrologic processes, providing sources of nutrients to marine ecosystems, and potentially, an important source of fresh water for human populations. Here, we use a combination of unpiloted aerial systems (UAS) thermal infrared (TIR) imaging and salinity measurements to characterize SGD on the remote East Polynesian island of Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile). Previous research has shown that coastal freshwater seeps are abundant on Rapa Nui and strongly associated with the locations of ancient settlement sites. We currently lack, however, information on the differential magnitude or quality of these sources of fresh water. Our UAS-based TIR results from four locations on Rapa Nui suggest that locations of variably-sized SGD plumes are associated with many ancient settlement sites on the island and that these water sources are resilient to drought events. These findings support previous work indicating that ancient Rapa Nui communities responded to the inherent and climate-induced hydrological challenges of the island by focusing on these abundant and resilient freshwater sources. Our results highlight the efficacy of using UAS-based TIR for detecting relatively small SGD locations and provide key insights on the potential uses of these water sources for past and current Rapa Nui communities.
... Even the earliest European explorers, desperate to reprovision their drinking water after long crossings, remarked on the scarcity and brackish quality of the water (cf. la Pérouse 1994: 65;Hixon et al. 2019). The fact that such a vital resource was not readily available posed a real challenge to the successful colonization of the island. ...
... But in the littoral areas where the aquifer is much closer to the surface there are a number of wells and water basins (cf. Hixon et al. 2019;Englert 2012;Forster 1777). ...
In the late afternoon of 5 April 1722, Easter Sunday, crew members on board the Afrikaansche Galey sighted an island in the Pacific. The discovery was greeted with joy. Could this be the sandy island off the coast of the long-sought Unknown Southland, mentioned by Edward Davis in 1687? They signalled it to the Arend and the Thienhoven, the other two ships of the Dutch Expedition, and Commander Jacob Roggeveen gave the island the obvious name of Paaseiland (Dutch for Easter Island). Roggeveen and the crew of the two accompanying ships did not see the island until the next day. This explains why 6 April is often mentioned in travel reports. In the days that followed the Dutch approached the coast, saw that fires had been lit on the island, met a man from Easter Island who had managed to swim to one of their ships, and finally went ashore with 134 men on Friday, 10 April. Shortly after their landing, some sailors in the rear of the group panicked and fired on the islanders, killing ten to twelve inhabitants. Roggeveen and the other captains were angry and the petty officer involved was called to account. Nevertheless, the expedition went ahead, and impressions of this exceptional island were recorded in official logs and travel accounts. The Dutch visit lasted only one day, and at the end of that same day, the three captains and three pilots concluded in a joint meeting, chaired by Roggeveen, that this island could not be the ‘sandy island’ mentioned in Davis’s travel accounts. Having navigated around the island just in case, they finally set sail again on the 13 April, on a westerly course.
... Even the earliest European explorers, desperate to reprovision their drinking water after long crossings, remarked on the scarcity and brackish quality of the water (cf. la Pérouse 1994: 65;Hixon et al. 2019). The fact that such a vital resource was not readily available posed a real challenge to the successful colonization of the island. ...
... But in the littoral areas where the aquifer is much closer to the surface there are a number of wells and water basins (cf. Hixon et al. 2019;Englert 2012;Forster 1777). ...
The exact timing of the first settlement of Rapa Nui is still subject of debate. Some authors argue for a settlement around 800 to 1000 AD (Steadman et al. 1994; Martinsson-Wallin and Crockford 2002; Mieth and Bork 2010). Other authors advocate the scenario of initial settlement around 1150 AD at the earliest (e.g., Hunt and Lipo 2006; DiNapoli et al. 2020). Undoubtably, however, the first settlers found an island covered in pristine woodland. The presence of an initially dense vegetation consisting of relatively few tree species and an understory of diverse shrub species, herbs, and ferns has been extensively documented in recent decades by palynological, anthracological, and geoarcheological research, and most recently summarized in detail by Rull (2020b). A now extinct palm species of the Cocosoidae subfamily played a dominant role in the species composition of the woodland. The palm species was probably closely related to the Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis), whose exact taxonomic classification either to the genus Jubaea or as a separate species of a new genus Paschalcocos has been discussed (Dransfield et al. 1984; Zizka 1991). Biotic evidence for the former existence of more than one palm species has also been discussed (Delhon and Orliac 2007). The former existence of the now extinct palm species is undoubtedly proven by their remains in geoarchives and/or anthropogenic contexts: pollen, phytoliths, charred wood, and especially by nutshells (endocarps) that appear either as deposits in protected places or as charred pieces in fireplaces. The most impressive indication of the former spatial distribution of the palm-dominated woodland is provided by palm root imprints preserved in the autochthonous soils that are attributable to the respective locations of individual trees. These imprints were found by Bork et al. (2019a) on more than 80% of Rapa Nui’s surface area and up to an altitude of 500 m asl on the Terevaka volcano. In their latest calculations, the authors arrived at a total number of 19.7 million palms that once grew on Rapa Nui (Bork et al. 2019a).
... 1520-1720 AD), wherein the crater lake at Rano Raraku, and likely at Rano Aroi, went completely dry [33,87,96,97,137]. Recent research, however, shows that archaeological and ethnohistoric records demonstrate that Rapa Nui communities relied largely on submarine groundwater discharge (SGD)-locations at the coast where groundwater emerges at the tideline [136,138,139]. These studies also suggest that SGDs are dependable water sources that are resilient to drought events, given the relatively long residence and turn-over times for water in the island's subterranean aquifer [135,140]. ...
... These studies also suggest that SGDs are dependable water sources that are resilient to drought events, given the relatively long residence and turn-over times for water in the island's subterranean aquifer [135,140]. Salinity surveys show that these SGD locations are brackish, though a range of evidence indicates that islanders developed water management techniques to intercept this seeping fresh water before it mixed with saltwater [136,[138][139][140]. The use of SGD is most clearly demonstrated in the archaeological record through the construction of puna-paved, walled, and well-like features used to trap and impound groundwater just before it emerges at the coast ( Figure 6). ...
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The history of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) has long been framed as a parable for how societies can fail catastrophically due to the selfish actions of individuals and a failure to wisely manage common-pool resources. While originating in the interpretations made by 18th-century visitors to the island, 20th-century scholars recast this narrative as a "tragedy of the commons," assuming that past populations were unsustainable and selfishly overexploited the limited resources on the island. This narrative, however, is now at odds with a range of archaeological, ethnohistoric, and environmental evidence. Here, we argue that while Rapa Nui did experience large-scale deforestation and ecological changes, these must be contextualized given past land-use practices on the island. We provide a synthesis of this evidence, showing that Rapa Nui populations were sustainable and avoided a tragedy of the commons through a variety of community practices. We discuss this evidence in the context of Elinor Ostrom's "core design principles" for sustainable communities and argue that Rapa Nui provides a model for long-term sustainability.
... 500 years through the introduction of the commensal Pacific rat [76][77][78], forest clearance [79,80], and the establishment of vast lithic mulch gardens for food production [e.g., [81][82][83][84][85][86][87]. Recent studies show that freshwater sources available in groundwater discharge (springs) predict the locations of ahu and point to community activities centered on this shared critical resource [88][89][90]. Given the diminutive size of Rapa Nui and its relatively marginal environment, the island never supported a particularly large population. ...
... With such unpredictability in conditions necessary for survival (i.e., food and water), past knowledge about problems and solutions would have selective value. For example, if an individual knew how to survive an extended drought using particular cultivation or water management strategies, such as many unique strategies used by Rapanui people [e.g., 87,89], that individual and their community would be better off than those without such knowledge. The effects of drift on this small and isolated population would thus prove challenging for retaining cultural knowledge shared in oral traditions by individual-to-individual social learning mechanisms. ...
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Understanding how and why cultural diversity changes in human populations remains a central topic of debate in cultural evolutionary studies. Due to the effects of drift, small and isolated populations face evolutionary challenges in the retention of richness and diversity of cultural information. Such variation, however, can have significant fitness consequences, particularly when environmental conditions change unpredictably, such that knowledge about past environments may be key to long-term persistence. Factors that can shape the outcomes of drift within a population include the semantics of the traits as well as spatially structured social networks. Here, we use cultural transmission simulations to explore how social network structure and interaction affect the rate of trait retention and extinction. Using Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile) as an example, we develop a model-based hypothesis for how the structural constraints of communities living in small, isolated populations had dramatic effects and likely led to preventing the loss of cultural information in both community patterning and technology.
... Denominado por Vogt y Moser (2010) como un 'paisaje sagrado', Ava Ranga Uka A Toroke Hau (ARU) es un complejo relacionado con actividades y elementos arqueológicos vinculados a la gestión y recolección de agua, incluidas presas y canales. Dado que el agua era uno de los recursos más importantes para la supervivencia durante la antigüedad (Brosnan et al., 2018;DiNapoli et al., 2019;Hixon et al., 2019;Englert, 1948;Trush, 2016), parece bastante obvio que la élite quisiera supervisar y restringir el acceso a sitios con elementos valiosos para recolectar y estancar el agua. Al examinar la presencia de un solo ahu con moai (Ahu Hanua Nua Mea) y la aparición esporádica de piedras paenga (para hacer presas y estanques de retención) que se encuentran en toda el área de ARU, Vogt y Moser (2010) argumentaron a favor no solo de la presencia de la élite en ARU, sino que también de su control sobre el área. ...
Full-text available Después de nueve años de investigación, estoy feliz de ver este artículo, apoyado por un "grant" de LUPA del Servicio Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural de Chile, finalmente publicado. Los resultados de esta investigación pintan una nueva imagen de la interacción cultural en Rapa Nui durante el período anterior al contacto al resaltar la economía política antigua que fue responsable del acceso, control, intercambio y uso de la piedra arqueológica en Rapa Nui. Utilizando colecciones arqueológicas del Museo de Antropología Sebastián Englert, el Proyecto Geoquímico Rapa Nui reveló una diversidad de secuencias operativas en la fabricación de herramientas de basalto que resultaron ser paralelas a las numerosas vías económicas, ideológicas y sociopolíticas utilizadas por los antiguos rapanui para adquirir materias primas. para la creación de artefactos y piedras de construcción. Este estudio identificó geoquímicamente ocho tipos de basalto, así como determinó que la mayor parte del material analizado provenía de los complejos de canteras de Ava o'Kiri y Pu Tokitoki. Por último, se identificaron cuatro vías para el intercambio de basalto arqueológico: oportunista, comunal, confederación (re)distribución y élite (re)distribución. Así, la complejidad de la interacción esbozada en esta investigación refuta las proposiciones económicas, ideológicas y sociopolíticas presentadas por la "narrativa del colapso" para el período pre-contacto rapa nui. En cambio, establece la interacción y colaboración comunes dentro y entre los mata (clanes) y las dos confederaciones insulares que existieron durante el pasado de la isla, especialmente con respecto al acceso y uso de piedras culturalmente valiosas como el basalto. Este trabajo incluye un artículo de prensa, un artículo completo revisado por “peer-review” y una galería en línea de artefactos analizados en este trabajo. After nine years of research, I’m happy to see this article, supported by a LUPA grant from Chile’s National Service of Cultural Heritage, finally published. Results of this research paint a new picture of cultural interaction on Rapa Nui during the pre-contact period by highlighting the ancient political economy that was responsible for the access, control, exchange and use of archaeological stone on Rapa Nui. Using archaeological collections from the Sebastian Englert Anthropology Museum, the Rapa Nui Geochemical Project revealed a diversity of operational sequences in the manufacture of basalt tools that turned out to parallel the numerous economic, ideological, and sociopolitical pathways used by the ancient Rapanui to acquire raw materials for the creation of artifacts and construction stones. This study geochemically identified eight types of basalt, as well as determined that most of the material analyzed came from the quarry complexes of Ava o‘Kiri and Pu Tokitoki. Lastly, four pathways for the exchange of archaeological basalt were identified: opportunistic, communal, confederation (re)distribution, and elite (re)distribution. Thus, the complexity of the interaction outlined in this research further refutes the economic, ideological, and sociopolitical propositions presented by the "collapse narrative" for the Rapa Nui pre-contact period. This work includes a press article, a full peer-reviewed article, and an online gallery of artifacts analyzed in this work.
... Similar to previous analyses of the tempo of monument construction around the island 57 , the vast majority of our 14 C data derive from coastal settlements and do not show declines in activity or support claims of major climate-induced disruptions from drought. While climate perturbations seem to have led to desiccation of the crater lake at Rano Raraku 72 , recent research suggests Rapa Nui populations adapted to these changes by relying primarily on coastal groundwater sources [87][88][89] . ...
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Examining how past human populations responded to environmental and climatic changes is a central focus of the historical sciences. The use of summed probability distributions (SPD) of radiocarbon dates as a proxy for estimating relative population sizes provides a widely applicable method in this research area. Paleodemographic reconstructions and modeling with SPDs, however, are stymied by a lack of accepted methods for model fitting, tools for assessing the demographic impact of environmental or climatic variables, and a means for formal multi-model comparison. These deficiencies severely limit our ability to reliably resolve crucial questions of past human-environment interactions. We propose a solution using Approximate Bayesian Computation (ABC) to fit complex demographic models to observed SPDs. Using a case study from Rapa Nui (Easter Island), a location that has long been the focus of debate regarding the impact of environmental and climatic changes on its human population, we find that past populations were resilient to environmental and climatic challenges. Our findings support a growing body of evidence showing stable and sustainable communities on the island. The ABC framework offers a novel approach for exploring regions and time periods where questions of climate-induced demographic and cultural change remain unresolved.
La imagen habitual que se tiene de las ondinas es la de seres malvados, idea que se extendió en el siglo XIX especialmente. En cambio, los orígenes de este personaje mitológico presentan una doble cara, ya que también se pueden encontrar elementos positivos. Ondina de Christian Petzold, inspirada en el relato de Fouqué, crea una nueva significación para la figura de la ondina basada en dicha ambigüedad y la muestra en dos aspectos principales: la ciudad de Berlín (de la que se destaca su urbanismo) y las relaciones amorosas (donde el egoísmo ocupa un lugar central).
Conference Paper
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The magnificence of Bali makes this city famous as the world paradise among travellers. Its natural beauty emerges from its landscape, condensed culture and the local community. In southern Bali, the tranquil sandy beaches and karst landscapes attract few tourists, whereas their well- preserved sites store appealing facets of geological phenomena, heritage and tourism which differ to other tourism spots in Bali. This study aims to promote geotourism of Nusa Dua and Nusa Penida in Southern Bali with regards to the geological aspect of carbonate development, bioclastic sedimentation, tidal and wave abrasion, karstification, the emergence of freshwater spring on the sandy beaches and the dissemination of vertebrate fossil in the underwater cave. Geological observation is carried out to investigate karst and beaches morphologies, the geometry of reef carbonate and its karstification process as well as the constituent of abundant white- sand sediments. The collected samples of sands and rocks from 4 sampling sites were analyzed using petrography analysis to identify the rock types and sand composition, while laser diffraction particle size is used to indicate the size distribution and how intense the winnowing process occurred. As a result, the existence of carbonate outcrops in Nusa Dua and Nusa Penida beaches is caused by tectonic uplift that elevates the pre-existing coral reef from shallow marine into the surface. In the surface, the reef carbonate underwent dissolution and karstification, which generated cave or other unique geometry. The discovery of vertebrate fossils in the underwater cave of the Stiva cave, Nusa Penida, reveals that this cave became a shelter for prehistoric human before it was inundated by seawater after the last maximum glaciation. Subsequently, reef carbonate growths perpetually to compensate the sea-level rise, uplifted again to surface and karstified until the present time. Another interesting object is the presence of nearshore groundwater seepage that discharges from a porous well rounded - sandy materials. It is assumed that the unconfined groundwater less firmly compresses the seawater when passing the maximum tidal level. These fascinating geological phenomena should be introduced to the visitors to educate them about the significance of preserving the geological landscape and environment.
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Explaining the processes underlying the emergence of monument construction is a major theme in contemporary anthropological archaeology, and recent studies have employed spatially-explicit modeling to explain these patterns. Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile) is famous for its elaborate ritual architecture, particularly numerous monumental platforms (ahu) and statuary (moai). To date, however, we lack explicit modeling to explain spatial and temporal aspects of monument construction. Here, we use spatially-explicit point-process 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. Through these analyses, we demonstrate the central importance of coastal freshwater seeps for precontact populations. Our results suggest that ahu locations are most parsimoniously explained by distance from freshwater sources, in particular coastal seeps, with important implications for community formation and inter-community competition in precontact times.
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The population of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in pre-historic time is believed to have numbered in the thousands although typical perennial sources of drinking water (streams, springs) are nearly absent from the island. From the accounts of early European explorers, it is known that the people of Rapa Nui utilized brackish drinking water. Beyond this, almost nothing is known of the water resources in prehistory. The authors report here on field studies that suggest the ancient inhabitants of Rapa Nui survived periods of drought due to their utilization of brackish groundwater discharge that surfaces buoyantly at coastlines. This water was ponded in interception trenches, possibly captured in coastal impoundments, or just skimmed from the surface of seawater. Two field surveys indicate abundant locations of brackish but potable water along the coastline. The field surveys failed to identify distributed inland sources that are likely drought-resistant sources of water. Although coastal groundwater sources of are of poor quality, they were apparently sufficient to support the population and allow them to build the magnificent statues (moai) for which Easter Island is famous.
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This paper reviews the existing hypotheses concerning the cultural shift from the Ancient Cult (AC) to the Birdman Cult (BC) that occurred on Easter Island (Rapa Nui) during the last millennium and introduces a holistic new hypothesis called CLAFS (Climate-Landscape-Anthropogenic Feedbacks and Synergies), which considers a variety of potential drivers of cultural change and their interactions. The CLAFS hypothesis can be tested with future paleoecological studies on new sedimentary sequences such as the new continuous and coherent record encompassing the last millennium from Rano Kao (KAO08-03) using a combination of pollen, non-pollen palynomorphs (NPP), charcoal, and fecal lipid analyses, at decadal to multidecadal resolution. The Kao record should be be compared with other continuous records of the last millennium available for the two other freshwater bodies of the island, Rano Aroi and Rano Raraku, to obtain an island-wide perspective of spatio-temporal deforestation patterns in relation to climatic shifts and human activities. The CLAFS hypothesis predicts that the shift from the AC to the BC was associated with the drying out and deforestation of Rano Raraku (the center of the AC) by ~1570 CE, followed by human migration to Rano Kao (the social center of the BC), where freshwater and forests were still available. Under the CLAFS scenario, this migration would have occurred by ~1600 CE. Findings to the contrary would require modification and refinement, or outright rejection, of the CLAFS hypothesis and the consideration of alternate hypotheses compatible with new paleoecological evidence. Regardless the final results, archaeological evidence will be required to link climatic and ecological events with cultural developments.
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Terrestrial groundwater discharging directly into the sea (“fresh submarine groundwater discharge”, fresh SGD) is increasingly recognized as nutrient and pollutant pathway from land to coastal oceans. However, its active use by coastal populations and its role for coastal societies is nearly entirely neglected. Here we present examples from a variety of places and from all available sources around the world to highlight that fresh submarine groundwater discharge is widely valued as a water resource for drinking, hygiene, agriculture, fishing, tourism, culture, or ship navigation. In Peru, fresh SGD is used for drinking, on Tahiti for bathing, in Greece for irrigation, in Bali for blessing, and already Alexander von Humboldt noted the danger for smaller vessels from a submarine spring off Cuba, but at which Manatees gathered and were hunted by fishermen. These are just a few of the presented examples, which document the complex value fresh submarine groundwater discharge has for coastal communities. Because global change will strongly affect this water resource we should assess and understand that value, before the phenomenon will disappear at many locations due to terrestrial groundwater extraction or sea level increase.
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The diverse island societies of East Polynesia are well-suited as models for comparative evolutionary analysis. Settled ca. 750 BP by a common ancestral population, colonists of the remote corners of the Pacific shared a pool of cultural traits that included commensal species, language, technology, and other cultural practices. Following colonization however, island populations diverged in language, subsistence practices, degree of territoriality, settlement patterns, investment and forms of monumental architecture, and social organization. Driven by historical circumstances and varied environmental conditions, this divergence presents evolutionary case studies of alternative paths of cultural change. One explanatory approach to this evolutionary divergence involves isolating the critical ecological parameters that likely constrained and shaped the diverse history of island populations. Here, we offer a comparative evolutionary analysis that explores the divergent histories of two marginal East Polynesian islands: Rapa Nui and Rapa Iti.
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The diverse islands of Oceania are ideal locations for the study of human ecology. Here, we argue that human behavioural ecology (HBE) provides a useful theoretical framework to approach a range of topics in Pacific prehistory, including, but not limited to, subsistence, territoriality, and monumentality. We further stress that the strength of this approach lies in the use of models as heuristic devices, and that HBE is not mutually exclusive from other explanatory frameworks, but complements larger research agendas in Pacific archaeology.
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Residents’ attitudes concerning tourism evolution and impacts in tourism host localities are a crucial determinant of the ability of the tourism sector to develop. Easter Island has recently experienced a tremendous tourism growth, which has nurtured expectations that the tourist sector could become the economic driver of the island. Using fieldwork, interviews and surveys, we investigate residents’ perceptions towards tourism and analyse their implications for the sector’s future development. The survey results show that 96% of residents believe that tourism is important or very important for the island’s economy. We conclude that while residents of Easter Island are aware of tourism’s negative impacts, they support the tourism sector, because they recognize it as the main future driver of the island’s economy. However, due to the current environmental threats and the serious governance problems of the island, it is not clear if further expansion of the tourism sector will be sustainable. © 2016-Institute of Island Studies, University of Prince Edward Island, Canada.
Easter Island (Rapa Nui) is a remote Pacific island known for its megalithic statues, the moai, built by an ancient culture which disappearance is still debated. Theories claiming for either self-destruction (ecocide) of this ancient culture or an eventual genocide after the European contact have been the most popular. Anthropogenic drivers have been traditionally preferred as causes of this major cultural shift, whereas climatic changes have been dismissed or underrated. However, the latest findings suggest that the topic is more complex than formerly thought and demand a more holistic perspective. This paper reviews the main paleoclimatic, paleoecological, archaeological and historical evidence of the major Rapanui cultural shift leading to the end of the moai-building civilization and uses an integrated approach to analyze its timing and potential causes. The disappearance of the ancient Eastern Island culture that erected the moai was a dramatic cultural shift with significant changes in lifestyle, socio-political organization, religious performance, art and also in the geographical settlement of the cultural core of the Rapanui society. The ancient society, represented by the so called Ancient Cult (or moai cult) was centered on the Rano Raraku crater, to the east of the island, whose soft volcanic rocks (tuff) where suitable for moai carving. This society was replaced by the Birdman-Cult society, based on Rano Kao, to the westernmost end of the island. The assumed date for such shift is uncertain ranging between mid-16th and late-18th centuries. It is suggested that such geographical change, as well as the associated societal transformations, may have been the result of a combination of climatic, ecological and cultural drivers and events. The latest paleoecological reconstructions show that the Rano Raraku catchment was deforested by AD 1450 and the lake inside dried out by AD 1550 owing to an intense climatic drought. This would have caused a landscape deterioration transforming the Raraku catchment into a wasteland devoid of freshwater and unsuitable for human life and the cultural flourishment that characterized the Ancient-Cult society. The drought lasted for about a century and a half and would have forced the Rapanuis to look for alternative freshwater sources. The only feasible option was the freshwater lake inside the then forested Rano Kao crater, where the ceremonial village of Orongo, the center of the Birdman Cult, was funded by AD 1600. The Kao crater is made of hard volcanic rocks (basalts) unsuitable for moai carving by the Neolithic Rapanui culture, unaware of metals, which would have contributed to the end of the moai-building phase. Deforestation and drought would have led to a general demographic decline. The shift from the rigid socio-political organization of the Ancient Cult to the more flexible system characteristic of the Birdman Cult could be viewed as a cultural adaptation to changing environmental conditions. The occurrence of a further, rather catastrophic, genocide caused by slave trading and epidemic diseases, occurred shortly after the European contact (AD 1722), has been documented historically. Therefore, the Rapanui civilization has undergone at least two cultural crises caused by natural and anthropogenic drivers. A complex synergistic scenario like that proposed here can conciliate multidisciplinary lines of evidence formerly used to defend more simplistic and apparently contradictory hypotheses of cultural change.