New Theories About Easter Island Statues, Deforestation Presented
June 22, 2012

New Theories About Easter Island Statues, Deforestation Presented

Experts from a pair of American universities have put forth new theories as to how Rapa Nui's legendary stone statues were put into place, as well has what may have caused the downfall of the lush forests once found on the isolated South American location also known as Easter Island.

According to and Huffington Post reports, anthropologist Carl P. Lipo of Cal State Long Beach and archaeologist Terry Hunt of the University of Hawaii have demonstrated their theory that the famous moai statues were "walked" into place, contradicting other current theories in the process.

Lipo and Hunt demonstrated their theory, using 18 people split into three teams -- two of which helped move the statue forward while the third positioned themselves behind the statue and used ropes to help keep it upright. Using this method, the experts moved a 10-foot-tall, five ton replica statue a few hundred yards, demonstrating that with enough manpower, the actual statues, some of which are more than 30 feet tall and weigh upwards of 80 tons, could have been moved into place by the ancient villagers on the island.

Lipo and Hunt, who spent more than a decade studying the island and are the authors of the new book The Statues That Walked, aren´t the first to put forth this notion, according to the Guardian Express Newspaper. In 1982, Thor Heyerdahl conducted the same sort of experiment, moving a statue using a similar rope technique and approximately 180 people.

However, there are other theories regarding the 887 statues, with some believing that they were the handiwork of Peruvian Incas, Polynesians, or even extraterrestrials, according to various reports, and that they may have been moved into place using wooden sledges -- a technique that has been successfully demonstrated by UCLA archaeologist Jo Anne Van Tilburg.

Lipo and Hunt also challenge UCLA anthropologist's Jared Diamond's theory regarding the so-called "ecocide" of Rapa Nui, in which he asserted that early Polynesian settlers chopped down forests to produce wood for building and moving the moai, Los Angeles Times reporter Thomas H. Maugh II said.

Once the trees were felled, conditions prevented them from returning, causing winds to blow off the topsoil and decreasing the land's fertility. Without wood to build fishing boats, the populace first slaughtered and ate the island's birds, then ultimately "descended into cannibalism and barbarity," according to Maugh.

Hunt and Lipo disagree somewhat with Diamond's theories, according to National Geographic's Hannah Bloch, who said that the authors and researchers "agree that Easter Island lost its lush forests and that it was an 'ecological catastrophe' -- but the islanders themselves weren´t to blame. And the moai certainly weren´t."

Rather, Bloch said that the duo believe that Polynesians arrived on the island four centuries later than commonly believed (about 1200 AD), meaning that they wouldn't have had enough time to deforest the area themselves and that something else had to have played a role in the process. That "something else," they believe, were Polynesian rats which arrived along with those early settlers.

"Abundant bones in the Anakena dig suggest the islanders dined on them, but otherwise the rodents had no predators. In just a few years, Hunt and Lipo calculate, they would have overrun the island," Bloch said. ":Feasting on palm nuts, they would have prevented the reseeding of the slow-growing trees and thereby doomed Rapa Nui´s forest, even if humans hadn´t been slashing and burning. No doubt the rats ate birds´ eggs too."

"Of course, the settlers bear responsibility for bringing the rats; Hunt and Lipo suspect they did so intentionally. (They also brought chickens.)," the National Geographic reporter added. "But like invasive species today, the Polynesian rats did more harm to the ecosystem than to the humans who transported them. Hunt and Lipo see no evidence that Rapanui civilization collapsed when the palm forest did; based on their own archaeological survey of the island, they think its population grew rapidly after settlement to around 3,000 and then remained more or less stable until the arrival of Europeans."