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Comment to Rull et al. (2013) – Challenging Easter Island’s Collapse: the need for interdisciplinary synergies

DOI: 10.3389/fevo.2014.00056

Keywords: Easter Island, interdisciplinarity, Collapse, Social Change, environmental changes

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The road to deforestation and its social feedback on Rapa Nui is a fascinating and a possibly important parable; one with symbolic implications for how the rest of the world views environmental change and human impact. Rull et al. (2013) present a compilation and critique of Rapa Nui’s palaeoecological and archaeological data that is critical for progressing further work on the island, and state that Rapa Nui was subject of a gradual environmental change instead of rapid deforestation. The authors interpret the slower pace of deforestation as evidence for gradual social change, supported by Mulrooney’s (2013) recent archaeological investigation in La Pérouse Bay (Figure 1), therefore contradicting the hypothesis of an abrupt ecocidal collapse of Easter Island’s prehistoric society (Diamond, 1994). In order to advance their interpretations, the authors suggest a closer collaboration between archaeology and palaeoecology and propose a research agenda. It is important to understand that past environmental change provides limited conclusions in regards to societal change, as societies have the ability to adapt. However, palaeoecological information derived from the island’s lake records (Rano Aroi, Rano Raraku, and Rano Kau; Figure 1) is well established and used as the main evidence to support the island’s proposed collapse (Bahn and Flenley, 1992, Diamond, 2005). But, the limitations of palynological interpretation are well known and widely discussed in the scientific community (Blarquez et al., 2013, Flenley et al., 1991, Hunter-Anderson, 1998, Ritchie, 1995). Thus, a call for closer collaboration between archaeology and palaeoecology is somewhat surprising. Instead, we suggest that a widening of disciplines in order to use a varied range of interpretive techniques, and a multiplicity of environmental and archaeological archives, would be of much greater advantage in order to understand the heavily discussed past of Rapa Nui (F?rster et al., 2013). Rull et al. (2013) set up a research agenda which presumes common questions between archaeology and palaeoecology based on a summary of previous work. However, this summary seemed to be focused on selected archaeological publications, and furthermore dismissed palaeoecological data from archives other than lake records. As a result, the authors: 1. Point out that there is new evidence for a gradual deforestation of the island, instead of abrupt ecological change. To our knowledge however, the majority of scientists have not actually proposed rapid deforestation, but for the process lasting ~400 of years or


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