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Easter Island’s farmers cultivated social resilience, not collapse

Polynesian society thrived despite having created environmental challenges

COLLAPSE-PROOF  New evidence supports the argument that makers of huge stone sculptures on Easter Island weathered environmental challenges rather than succumbing to them.

Easter Island’s Polynesian society is known for having created huge, humanlike statues and for supposedly folding in the late 1600s after overexploiting limited land. But that proposed societal collapse may never have happened, a new study suggests.

Despite largely clearing the island of its palm forest by roughly 1550, groups on Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, contained enough people to farm coastal and inland sites until well after Europeans first arrived in 1722, says anthropologist Mara Mulrooney of the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu.

“Deforestation did not equal societal failure on Rapa Nui,” Mulrooney says. “We should celebrate the remarkable achievements of this island civilization.”

Mulrooney’s analysis of 313 radiocarbon dates from structures and settlements across Rapa Nui appears in the December Journal of Archaeological Science.

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