Sue Hamilton interviewed by The Times on Rapa Nui study

12 February 2015

Statues at Ahu Tongariki

Sue Hamilton was recently asked to comment on a study that suggests that European disease led to the demise of Easter Islanders.

The study, which has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), examines whether the prehistoric population of Rapa Nui experienced a significant demographic collapse prior to European contact in AD 1722.  Looking at tools used by the islanders, the researchers found that they revealed a pattern of farming and land use at odds with the idea that the civilisation caused its own downfall and demonstrated that the concept of 'collapse' was a misleading characterisation of prehistoric human population dynamics.

Sue is leading the AHRC-funded Rapa Nui Landscapes of Construction collaborative research project which is concerned with an interpretation of the entire landscape of the island. Her collaborative research has affirmed that the Rapa Nui islanders came up with clever solutions and adaptations to the lack of trees — including 'rock mulching' where they put rocks across the soil to hold in nutrients.

As Sue indicated in her Times interview:

  • 'Starvation is not an automatic result of tree removal, and neither is warfare...their  [the islanders']  story is one of ingenuity, resilience, and resourcefulness.'

Read the full Times article here (£ required)»