A model-based approach to the tempo of “collapse”: The case of Rapa Nui (Easter Island)

Beau, Terry, Tim and I just published a new article in the Journal of Archaeological Science. Some of the news releases for the article are here: http://www.sci-news.com/othersciences/anthropology/easter-island-society-did-not-collapse-08095.html and https://phys.org/pdf500210828.pdf The published version of the article is here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305440320300182?via%3Dihub. You can find a copy of this article here:


In the article, using existing radiocarbon dates and Bayesian statistical modeling tools, we found that construction of ahu on Rapa Nui began soon after colonization and increased rapidly, sometime between the early-14th and mid-15th centuries, with a steady rate of construction events that continued beyond European contact in 1722.  Once people started to build monuments shortly after arrival to the island, they continued construction well into the period after Europeans arrived. This would not have been the case had there been some pre-contact “collapse”—indeed, we should have seen all construction stop well before 1722. The lack of such a pattern supports our claims and directly falsifies those who continue to support the ‘collapse’ account.

What is particularly important about the evidence is the fact that it shows remarkable cultural resilience by Rapa Nui people.  Once Europeans arrive on the island, there are many well-documented tragic events due to disease, murder, slave raiding, and other conflicts. These events are entirely extrinsic to the islanders and have, undoubtedly, devastating effects. Yet, the Rapa Nui people — following practices that provided them great stability and success over hundreds of years — continue their traditions in the face of tremendous odds. The degree to which their cultural heritage was passed on – and is still present today through language, arts, and cultural practices — is quite notable and impressive. I think this degree of resilience has been overlooked due to the “collapse” narrative, and deserves recognition.

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