19 Jan 2015

New research blows Rapa Nui collapse theory

12:50 pm on 19 January 2015

Newly-published research into ancient land use on Rapa Nui or Easter Island shows the collapse of society there wasn't as dramatic as first thought.

A multi-national team of scientists and archaeologists has come up with the first empirical evidence of changes in land use on the island which reveals how the slowly changing environment influenced people's living and farming patterns.

Theories up until now have centred around people starving to death due to slashing and burning the land for agriculture and the introduction of disease after contact with Europeans.

An archaeologist who helped in the latest research, Thegn Ladefoged, says the team used new technology to date hundreds of artefacts found lying around Rapa Nui.

"Our research does suggest that there's change going on but it doesn't support the notion that there was a huge environmental collapse rather it's a much slower change, more of a continuum of change rather than a punctuated collapse."

Professor Ladefoged says the new findings don't support the orthodox archaeological story of of dramatic collapse, anarchy and cannabalism on Rapa Nui.