JO ANNE VAN TILBURG study featured in UCLA Newsroom

Findings described in “New excavations in Easter Island’s statue quarry: Soil fertility, site formation and chronology” published in the November issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, are detailed in a recent UCLA Newsroom article. Jo Anne Van Tilburg, director of the Rock Art Archive at the Cotsen Institute and principal investigator of the Easter Island Statue Project, is one of the co-authors, together with Sarah C. Sherwood and others. The Journal of Archaeological Science is a peer-reviewed academic journal that covers “the development and application of scientific techniques and methods to all areas of archaeology.” As covered by Science News, the new study suggests that “Easter Island’s Polynesian society cultivated crops in soil made especially fertile by the quarrying of the rock for the massive, humanlike statues” known as moai.

 “Our excavations show that the quarrying process in Rano Raraku (the statue quarry on Easter Island) followed deforestation. Erosion moved soil downslope, but the lapilli tuff that makes up the quarry also broke down to produce new, enriched soil” explained Van Tilburg. “The result was a productive garden for sweet potato, banana, and taro but also paper mulberry (used to make clothing needed for the Polynesian lifestyle),” she added. “In a way, quarrying actually accomplished the spiritual goal that Rapanui belief assigned to the statues: to create agricultural fertility and provide food.”