Postcard: The 2016 IoA Field Season at Rapa Nui, Easter Island

Fig 1 Poike overviewWorld Archaeology Section,
The Institute of Archaeology,
University College London,
31-34 Gordon Square,
London WC1H 0PY.
United Kingdom

Dear Section Members,

At the front of erosion: landscape and archaeology on Rapa Nui (Easter Island)

Sue Hamilton, Mike Seager Thomas, Felipe Armstrong

A UCL team are currently working with the Chilean National Parks Authority (CONAF) and CAMN the Rapa Nui advisory to the Chilean Monuments in assessing and characterising the impact of severe erosion on Rapa Nui’s heritage and natural environment. This work draws upon the expertise of the ‘Rapa Nui Landscapes of Construction Project’ based at UCL.

Fig 1 Poike overview
Figure I. The Poike peninsula comprises an ancient shield volcano on the east end of Rapa Nui. The three domes on the left side of the hill are trachyte, a stone which on Rapa Nui only occurs on Poike, and is used for the facings of ceremonial monuments (Fig. 5) and for moai (statues).

Poike is a large and distinct topographic unit at the east end of Rapa Nui, with restricted access and surrounded on three sides by vast sheer, sea cliffs. It is effectively an island in an island with a unique set of monuments in a distinct environment, severely impacted upon by on-going erosion.

Fig 2 Poike team
Figure 2. Felipe Armstrong and Sue Hamilton with Paulo Tepano, CONAF Ranger and great grandson of Juan Tepano, guide to Katherine Routledge, who in 1914 initiated the first true archaeological survey of Easter Island and the last British expedition, prior to current work.

Topographically it comprises the oldest of Rapa Nui’s shield volcanos and has a different, deeply weathered geology, with few surviving stone outcrops. Poike provides important perspectives on the nature of Rapa Nui’s monuments and the variability of Rapa Nui prehistory, land use and prehistoric communities.

Figure 3. Eroding ahu (ceremonial platform)
Figure 3. Eroding ahu (ceremonial platform). Quad-copter aerial photograph of erosion and ahu. The facia stones of the rectilinear ahu platform are centre picture. Colluvium, stabilized by grass, abuts and masks the landward side of the ahu.

The erosional front now occurs several 100 metres inland from the cliff edge and washed out and deflated and destabilised monuments include unique ceremonial platforms, quarries for stone blocks, rock art and settlement structures. CONAF has a tree planting programme to stabilise the front and this is under discussion with respect to the remaining monuments in the erosion zone.

Figure 4. Left: a crematorium undermined by erosion on all sides. The striking front of white trachyte and dark flow lava is completely destabilised. Right:  Ahu seen in Figure3; it has at least one moai and a trail of collapsed trachyte facia can be seen on the left side.
Figure 4. Left: a crematorium undermined by erosion on all sides. The striking front of white trachyte and dark flow lava is completely destabilised. Right: Ahu seen in Figure3; it has at least one moai and a trail of collapsed trachyte facia can be seen on the left side.
Fig. 5 Poike erosion
Figure 5. Poike: The tree planting is an attempt to stabilise the erosion which has washed out most features leaving out of situ artefacts stranded on the surface.

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