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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Easter Island depopulation solved: Both Climate and the arrival of Europeans cause the natives to abandon the Island

Some Easter Island populations left prior to European arrival - Island, famous for its monolithic statues, is puzzling place. Not only do researchers continue to argue over exactly how the faraway Pacific island came to be inhabited, scientists also debate how it came to be so quickly abandoned. But new research offers some clarity to confusion over the eventual exodus of native Easter Islanders, or Rapa Nui.

While some researchers have posited that the arrival of Europeans (and the diseases they carried with them) was the primary factor that drove out island natives, others say native populations outgrew the island's natural resources and turned against each other -- overpopulation and internal strife. But new analysis says both factors were at play.

An international team of scientists studied a variety of ancient archaeological sites on the 63-square-mile island, which lies some 2,300 miles off the west coast of Chile. The researchers collected obsidian artifacts and measured how much water had been absorbed by the glass pieces. This analysis combined with knowledge of local climate patterns allowed the scientists to to determine how long various settlements had been inhabited.

The results showed that settlements in areas of the island where rain was either scarce or excessive were short-lived and abandoned prior to the arrival of the Europeans -- suggesting climate challenges and soil overuse played a role in driving out some Easter Islanders.

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