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Continuity or collapse? Diachronic settlement and land use in Hanga Ho'onu, Rapa Nui (Easter Island)

Continuity or collapse? Diachronic settlement and land use in Hanga Ho'onu, Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
Mara Anne Mulrooney


Department of Anthropology, The University of Auckland, Auckland 1010, NEW ZEALAND.


The archaeological landscape on Rapa Nui contains a palimpsest of surface archaeological features, reflecting a long history of settlement and land use. The island is often portrayed as the locale of a dramatic societal collapse that was triggered by overpopulation and environmental degradation, where the islanders committed “environmental suicide” during the late pre-European contact period (before AD 1722). Although this scenario has increasingly been called into question, many researchers still suggest that Rapa Nui society collapsed in late prehistory. However, no studies have provided sufficient evidence for or against a cultural and ecological collapse on the island prior to European contact. This thesis critically explores the archaeological evidence for cultural change by assessing the temporal and spatial components of settlement and land use in the Hanga Ho‘onu Project Area on the north coast. The analysis includes a GIS-based spatial analysis of surface archaeological features and the chronometric dating of selected areas of the landscape using obsidian hydration dating and radiocarbon dating. The results are placed into an island-wide context to explore settlement and land use on a broader regional scale. The results of this study suggest that Rapa Nui settlement and land use is marked by continuity rather than punctuated, detrimental change during the late pre- European contact period.