Steiglechner, Peter ORCID: and Merico, Agostino ORCID: (2022) Spatio-Temporal Patterns of Deforestation, Settlement, and Land Use on Easter Island Prior to European Arrivals. In: The Prehistory of Rapa Nui (Easter Island). , ed. by Rull, Valentí and Stevenson, Christopher. Developments in Paleoenvironmental Research, 22 . Springer International Publishing, Cham, pp. 401-426. ISBN 978-3-030-91127-0

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The ecological and socio-economic history of Easter Island prior to European contact exerts a great fascination on both scholars and general public. The reconstruction of this history is primarily based on palaeoecological and archaeological data. Changes in forest patterns and land use, for example, are typically inferred from palynological indicators, radiocarbon-based dates of charcoal remains, archaeological artefacts, and relicts of formerly cultivated gardens. Uncertainties affecting proxy data, however, can lead to difficult interpretations and conflicting views. While the existence of widespread deforestation is uncontested, there is less consensus in relation to timing, spatial extent, and causes of deforestation. Early results based on coarsely resolved pollen analysis, for example, suggested a somewhat abrupt decline of the forest. A more comprehensive and recent dataset of pollen records suggested, instead, gradual and patchy patterns of deforestation. Remains of tree stumps and charcoal led scholars to attribute the disappearance of the forest to anthropogenic activities such as the use of trees for tools and construction, for extracting sugary sap, or for clearing land for agriculture through slash-and-burn. The role played by rats in the deforestation---they were probably brought in intentionally as a food item by the first Polynesian settlers---is also subject to different interpretations. More recently, deforestation has been attributed to more complex climate--human--landscape feedbacks. While the replacement of cleared land by agriculture (often in the form of lithic mulched gardens) appears well documented and undisputed, soil characteristics such as fertility, important for determining the relevance of agricultural practices, are less understood, leading to large variations in the estimates related to the maximum number of individuals that could have been sustained by the environment.

Document Type: Book chapter
Programme Area: PA2
Research affiliation: Integrated Modelling > Systems Ecology
Date Deposited: 25 Aug 2022 15:51
Last Modified: 25 Aug 2022 15:51

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