CSU Long Beach -- October 10, 2003
Students from Cal State Long Beach Explore Mysterious Easter Island
California State University, Long Beach planted its flag in one of the Earth's
most mysterious places in the summer of 2003 when Carl Lipo, an assistant professor
in Anthropology Department, led six CSULB students to Easter Island.
Lipo and his six students arrived on Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, where they joined
15 University of Hawaii students, four teaching assistants and faculty member Terry
Hunt. There, they worked with Rapa Nui's ex-governor and archaeologist Sergio Rapu
to explore the spectacular beach Anakena.
"It was a spectacular trip with great results. I can't wait to go back," Lipo said.
"We did a variety of work on the island including foot survey for new archaeological
features on the south and northwest coast, excavation and geophysical explorations
to study buried deposits using CSULB's cutting-edge technology."
The students also used satellite imagery to map ancient road features where
prehistoric people moved the statues across the landscape.
Rapa Nui is about 2,000 miles from the coast of Chile and as small as it is remote,
a mere 171 square kilometers, or about the size of Catalina Island. What makes the
distant speck interesting is that about 1,000 statues weighing up to 30 tons each
were moved distances up to 15 kilometers to reach it.
Besides the spectacular white sand beach called Anakena, Lipo and his party also
searched Aka Hanga on the south side of the island where students performed
geophysical and pedestrian surveys, which translates to walking in 10-meter transects
across the landscapes to note architecture, houses and caves. "We did geophysical
surveys that attached magnetic signatures to specific houses," said Lipo. "The
idea was to identify stones that may have been taken away from one structure and
put someplace else."
The party also worked on the northwest coast where relatively little work had been
done. "This area is rich in archaeological sites: houses, fire hearths, platforms,
etc.," said Lipo, a resident of Long Beach.
The expedition received a grant from CSULB's College of Liberal Arts to pay for
satellite imagery of Easter Island. The images were programmed into computers and
used as maps and charts. "We saw the entire island in 60-centimeter resolution,"
he explained. "This gave us incredible information as to where the prehistoric
roads were located. These roads had been noted by early explorers but never really
mapped. This satellite imagery gave us an ability to map these roads. This was a
very exciting part of our research."
Technology played a big role in the research. Students used CSULB "remote sensing"
equipment to look beneath the ground and explore the subsurface without excavation.
"The use of this equipment gives us a lot of information without damaging the
fragile and finite archaeological record," Lipo said.
One of the project's conclusions argued against the long-held belief that the
statues were the downfall of Easter Island. "We think that the statues were not
the cause," explains Lipo. "Sure, populations increased and resources like trees
became fewer but this was not a catastrophe as some have written. In fact, our
model supports the idea that the activity associated with the statues helped the
populations survive for as long as they did, and as well as they did. Effort
involved in statue construction helped to keep populations lower and that was a
benefit for everyone."
Lipo hopes to return CSULB to Rapa Nui again someday. "The students certainly want
to go," he said. "They gained a new appreciation for the archaeology there, how we
can do it in a way that is conservation minded and really make a difference to what
we know about the archaeology of the island. We can actually solve mysteries. In
addition, the people of Rapa Nui were extremely friendly and supportive of our work.
They were interested in working with us to find out about their past heritage."