On the Expedition
On one of the most remote islands on Earth, you'll discover the sophisticated agriculture practices the Rapa Nui used to survive, and help restore some of the island's forests.
You’ll work in a uniquely beautiful landscape amid the warm sea breezes on the island’s western and northern coasts, searching for prehistoric gardens, livestock enclosures, and agricultural fields. Under the gaze of the giant stone moai, you'll conduct surface surveys, take photographs and GPS coordinates, measure stone features and clear grass, and dig test-pits in gardens to document the evolution of farming on the island. The artifacts you find will throw light on the lives of Rapa Nui’s original inhabitants, their culture, and its ultimate fate in the face of harsh environmental conditions and European disruptions.
You'll help conduct controlled cultivation experiments, including planting, registering and weighing plant growth, and photography work, to evaluate how effective the prehistoric lithic mulching system was in feeding the inhabitants of the island and to explore the implications this might have had for the cultural development of the prehistoric Polynesian society on Rapa Nui. You'll also help prepare soil to better sustain varieties of the indigenous plants of Rapa Nui, helping crate a botanical reserve for plants at risk. Finally, you'll have opportunities to participate in reforesting critically eroded areas of the island.
In your recreational time, wander in awe over what’s been called "one giant archaeological site," with nearby petroglyphs, caves, and ceremonial centers to capture your imagination.
Meals and Accommodations
You'll stay in cosy double rooms in a residencia, or small family hotel, in "downtown" Hanga Roa, the only town on Easter Island (Rapa Nui). The house has a fine common room, dining room, garden, and conventional bathroom facilities, but electricity, propane, and water are expensive--so expect to conserve. You’ll enjoy creative island cuisine, including fresh fruits and seafood, prepared by the house cook, but bring your favorite small trail or field foods—and some to share!—as such foods can be great for the field and hard to obtain on site.
About the Research Area
Easter Island (Rapa Nui)—or Isla de Pascua in Spanish—is a “special territory” of Chile, and is located 3,702 kilometres (2,300 miles) west of Santiago. The island is triangular in shape and is composed of three volcanoes: Mt. Terevaka, Rano Kau, and Poike. Together they form a landmass of about 105 square kilometers (65 square miles). The research area for this study consists of the upland region, Vaitea, and the surrounding terrain located on the island’s central volcano. The region is now sparsely covered with vegetation.
Prehistoric field systems are located on the slopes of the volcano and positioned around basalt outcrops and within protective swales and valleys. The agricultural fields, which are covered by a light to moderately dense grass, are readily identifiable by the surface concentrations of rock and small boulders. Domestic sites, represented by small stone arrangements, are located between the gardens.
Many points of interest are within a short walk of the project site, including caves, petroglyphs, reconstructed and unreconstructed ceremonial centers, and a small town with restaurants and shops.
Rapa Nui’s archaeological record is impressive on both large and small scales, and much of its human history is steeped in tragedy. The coastal temples (ahu) and the statue (moai) quarries are large, impressive and unforgettable. The archaeology of the domestic sphere of life is also rich in detail. With a little experience, what first appear to you as random clusters of un-worked stone will soon become recognizable as important features from the past.