Author ORCID Identifier

Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 6-21-2024


Rapa Nui, easter island, archaeology, population size, SWIR, satellite imagery, remote sensing, collapse, sustainability

Subject Heading(s)

Archaeology, Rapa Nui


Communities in resource-poor areas face health, food production, sustainability, and overall survival challenges. Consequently, they are commonly featured in global debates surrounding societal collapse. Rapa Nui (Easter Is- land) is often used as an example of how overexploitation of limited resources resulted in a catastrophic popula- tion collapse. A vital component of this narrative is that the rapid rise and fall of pre-contact Rapanui population growth rates was driven by the construction and overexploitation of once extensive rock gardens. However, the extent of island-wide rock gardening, while key for understanding food systems and demography, must be better understood. Here, we use shortwave infrared (SWIR) satellite imagery and machine learning to generate an island- wide estimate of rock gardening and reevaluate previous population size models for Rapa Nui. We show that the extent of this agricultural infrastructure is substantially less than previously claimed and likely could not have supported the large population sizes that have been assumed.

Available for download on Friday, June 21, 2024