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Easter Island

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Carolyn Silver
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« Reply #30 on: March 03, 2007, 03:02:33 am »

8. Chronology


Radiocarbon dating shows that Easter Island was inhabited by 690 AD, and possibly by the 4th century. This fits in with the tradition that there had been 57 generations of kings since Hotu Matua; allowing an average of 25 years per generation, this takes us back to 450 AD. Some archaeologists suspect that the island must have been settled several centuries earlier. There is of course no evidence – only theories and assumptions – to rule out the possibility that the island was inhabited millennia before this; as mentioned in section 2, some native traditions point to pre-Polynesian settlement. However if ‘unacceptably’ early carbon dates were obtained they would most likely be dismissed as ‘contaminated’.

As already explained, the standard view is that Polynesians discovered Easter Island by chance and that after its initial colonization it was not visited by anyone else until the Europeans began to arrive in the early 18th century. Archaeologist José Miguel Ramírez, however, holds that the variety of vegetal species introduced by the initial settlers shows that a systematic, planned colonization was involved, and adds: ‘It would also not be logical to hold that this amounted to a single contact with the people involved, who thereafter remained in absolute isolation until historical times.’1

Thor Heyerdahl argued that the island was originally settled by South Americans, and centuries later by Polynesians (though probably brought there by South Americans). As shown in section 3, the evidence is ambiguous but is certainly consistent with some sort of South American influence alongside the prevalent Polynesian influence. The island could have received settlers or visitors from both east and west on many occasions. There is clear evidence of different phases of development in statue carving and platform construction, and the insistence that all the archaeological remains must be crammed into a history spanning just 1500 years is theory-driven. The rongorongo phenomenon is also difficult to fit into conventional theories about Easter Island.

A great deal of excavation work still needs to be done. At Anakena the present surface of the sandy plains lies 4 m above the bedrock. At Rano Raraku the ground on which the giant statues were set up is often 6 m below the present surface. As Heyerdahl says: ‘Nobody could tell what kind of monuments and information a coat of soil as high as a house might still conceal.’2 Francis Mazière put it in a nutshell: ‘The ground of this island will have to be dug deep to discover the true beginnings ...’3

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