Permission pending...

Today, we finally found the office where the local researchers are based. Once we found it, it seemed hard to believe it took us a day and half. But, it is a single room at the back of a hotel complex, and has no sign. Upon arriving, we found our contact on the island, Lili, and she brought us up to date on the details of our permissions.

There are many steps involved in getting permission to collect samples here, and we've essentially passed all of them except a native commission. Lili whisked us off immediately to talk with the local head of CONAF, the government agency that administrates national parks and forests. The local head of CONAF spoke little English, so Lili translated. She told us CONAF was very supportive of our work for a number of reasons -- including our interest in understanding the function and dynamics of ecosystems that existed on the island in the past. They hope to begin some restoration projects that will benefit from this understanding.

CONAF was also interested in whether we can help answer an emerging question about the risk that many of the petroglyphs at Orongo, including the one in my first photograph, might soon fall into the ocean. There appears to even be some risk for the entire Orongo site, if I understand correctly. We may be able to look into this by checking the lake sediments we collect for evidence of past landslides that reached the inside of the crater. If we can help answer this question, they believed it would also cement our case with the native commission. We agreed in principle to try to examine this in our work in the Rano Kau crater, and to provide advice on how they might construct further work to evaluate the stability of the Orongo site.

The upshot of all this is that our meeting with the native commission will be next Tuesday, and we can (in the meantime) begin detailed exploratory work to determine where on the landscape we will take samples. But we can't take any samples yet. Ultimately, we hope we've done the right thing by coming to see our permission through, and assuming we can start work. In many western countries, it would be best to have postpone our trip until we had permission. But we surmised that coming to press our case was the best approach for Rapa Nui where both the Chilean authorities and native people are involved in granting permission, and the process is a bit opaque (at least to us). Please wish us luck!

permission pending troy blog

For today's photo, I'm including a photo of moai on the ahu at Anakena. This is the best beach on the island, and the only one with significant dunes. It is where the first canoes landed, and is assumed to be the first settlement. The white coral sand makes a beautiful contrast against the dark volcanic rocks and red soils. Incidentally, the coconut palms in the back were planted relatively recently once a species was found that could flourish this far south -- the typical Polynesian varieties require more tropical temperatures. Soil-derived sediments accumulating in washes behind the dunes may be useful for our research, helping us to understand the first area settled.


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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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