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Polynesian Latecomers: Easter Islanders took fast track to culture

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11:24am, March 8, 2006

Massive stone statues of humanlike figures on Easter Island in the South Pacific stand mute sentry over the remains of a now-defunct society thought by many researchers to have originated as early as A.D. 400.

However, new radiocarbon dates from Easter Island tell a different story. The first Polynesians arrived there around A.D. 1200, rapidly launching construction projects and carving imposing statues that they lugged all over the island, two anthropologists report in the March 17 Science. Cultural growth fostered tree loss and soil erosion that continued after European contact 500 years later, they say.

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