Monday, March 26, 2007

Smithsonian Magazine

There is a short article about my field work and research on Easter Island in the most recent issue of Smithsonian magazine. The comments by Joanne Van Tilburg are perhaps the most interesting as they demonstrate her tightly-held beliefs about the prehistory of the island and her reluctance to consider the evidence at it exists. She comes across as though she is putting the story before information, picking and choosing the "facts" as they fit her notions about what "must have" happened. For example, why is it inconceivable that people started making platforms when they first arrived on the island? Sure it makes little sense in 19th century "cultural evolution" framework in which all cultural change goes from "simple" to "complex" in a linear trajectory. But if groups were making platforms and other kinds of ceremonial architecture before they arrived, why would they necessary stop? In fact, this may be one of the first things they would do if the "function" of platforms is religious/honor of ancestor or whatever. The point is that we have to discard the badly constructed, largely data-free story that has grown up about the island (starting with missionaries) and generate information about the structure and distribution of the archaeological record. Until we do this task, the island will remain a "mystery" -- but perhaps that is ultimate goal of Van Tilburg in the end.

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