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more coring troy blog

We'll be continuing to collect sediment cores from Rano Kau for the rest of the week. So far, it looks like we're achieving promising results. Today's picture shows a nice 50 cm sample from one of our two devices. It shows some good layered sediments, as well as some fibrous vegetation that was dragged along on the outside of the corer.As you can see from David's shirt, this is a grimy job. When done well, it produces excellent results.

Today we began our efforts to core Rano Kau, the massive crater lake at the southwest end of Easter Island. Getting there is a challenge in itself. The walk down to where we are coring is a descent of 300m across boulder slopes and then out onto the floating mat that covers the lake.

Our first hole reached 20 meters below water level. Like most previous work in Rano Kau, we found entirely organic sediments (today's second photo shows an ideal sample from deep in the core). These organic layers are derived entirely from vegetation. We were pleased to find the organic layers interrupted by at least two layers of clay, silt and fine sand that may indicate ancient landslides from the crater rim.

mysterious troy blog 1

Today, we descended from the rim to the bottom of Rano Kau crater. At the base of the path, we discussed past coring work in the lake. John Flenley has always been struck by the microclimate in the crater and its potential for agriculture. The wind protection offered by the tall walls (300m) and abundant water would have made it very useful for some forms of agriculture, despite the difficulty involved in descending and climbing back out. With our guide, Zoro, Mark and I began traversing the boulder-strewn lake shore.

mysterious troy blog 2

Along the way, we found growing examples of many of the crops Polynesians brought to Easter Island: taro, sweet potatoes, bananas, ti (Tahitian cabbage tree), and paper mulberry. There were also a number of tree crops introduced by Europeans, including avocados and mangos. I wondered why I brought a lunch.

Part of the purpose of today's trip was to think about how we can collect cores that might tell us about past landslides and failures of the crater rim near Orongo, while still achieving the original goals of our research. We are hopeful that by collecting cores where we first descended, and directly underneath Orongo, we will be able to achieve both goals. The former is probably the best place to undertake agriculture, and therefore may have the most enduring record of agricultural activity. The area underneath the village of Orongo may be highly relevant to us because Orongo became the focus of activity after the "collapse".

petroglyph troy blog

On arrival on Rapa Nui (Easter Island), we were greeted by some Polynesian-style music and a rapid trip through customs. Unfortunately, two of us were still missing our luggage and there was no clear suggestion when it might arrive. The situation looked a bit bleak because the next flight from Tahiti arrives on Friday, although we were told to check back at the airport tomorrow when a flight from Chile arrives.

Hotel/hostel keepers on Easter Island tend to meet their guests at the airport. Although we had rented a car, this turned out to be very helpful. The car rental agent took a look at the lake-coring gear that had arrived with David Feek and John Flenley from Massey University, and then told us we didn't want the shiny new little Suzuki 4wd he had for us. Luckily we were able to quickly negotiate roughly the same price on a similar vehicle from our hostel keeper, Martin.

The hostel (or residencial in Spanish) is between a traditional hotel and hostel. It consists of adequate rooms with toilets and showers, collected through a lovely courtyard setting. In terms of quality, it is referred to as 'mid-range' in the Lonely Planet, and seems quite appropriate for Kiwis on a budget that includes the effect of a sinking dollar.

While we did little more than get settled on our first day, we had to find time to look around the island a little in the afternoon. We drove up to look down into the Rano Kau crater, which is likely to pose our greatest coring challenge. I'm sure you'll see and hear about Rano Kau again in this blog, so I'll focus now on the Orongo ceremonial village.

In a way, beginning with Orongo means beginning with the ending. The Orongo village and its Birdman cult represent what came after the 'collapse' of Rapa Nui's culture of statue building and ancestor worship. The ceremonial village would be owned for a year by the clan who successfully recovered the first seabird egg of the year from an offshore island, after dangerous swims across waters reported to be infested with sharks. You can see the island (Motu Nui) and a petroglyph of the Birdman in the photo I've posted, and you may want to read more elsewhere. For me, the take home message of the Birdman cult is that there was recovery after collapse, and that the focus on the dramatic feat of recovering the egg provided a very positive alternative to the clan warfare that appears to have emerged immediately following 'collapse'.

Troy Baisden

Was Collapse Inevitable on Easter Island (Rapa Nui)? Reconstructing a Civilisation's Failure is a Marsden Programme Troy Baisden is involved in.

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