Early Inhabitants of Easter Island Survived on Rats
By Hannah Osborne | September 30, 2013 11:29 PM EST
The early inhabitants of Easter Island responsible for the monolithic stone Moai statutes survived on rats, scientists have found.
Analysis of 41 skeletal remains found on the island has shown that for the first few hundred years, Polynesian rats were the main source of protein for settlers.
Researchers from the University of Idaho were also able to date 26 of the teeth remains with radiocarbon, allowing them to see how diet on the island changed over time.
"To better understand prehistoric Rapa Nui diet we examined stable carbon and nitrogen isotope compositions of human teeth, along with archaeological faunal material thought to comprise the Rapa Nui food web," they wrote.
"Our results indicate that, contrary to previous zooarchaeological studies, diet was predominantly terrestrial throughout the entire sequence of occupation, with reliance on rats, chickens and C3 plants.
"While a few individuals may have had access to higher trophic level marine resources, this is evident only later in time (generally post-AD 1600)."
C3 plants include yams, sweet potatoes and bananas.
Easter Island is one of the most isolated inhabited landmasses on Earth. The researchers believe the rats came to the island on board a vessel with humans and multiplied rapidly after arriving. They may have even been brought intentionally to provide food to the first settlers - Polynesian rats are smaller and reportedly tastier than their European relatives.
The scientists were surprised at the lack of fish in the inhabitants' diet. "Traditionally, from Polynesian cultures you have a heavy predominance of using marine products, especially in the early phase of colonisation," Amy Commendador, from Idaho State University, told LiveScience.
"Because of their geographic location and climate conditions, there just weren't as many marine products for them to get."
At the north of the island, there are steep cliffs difficult to fish from, while the southerly latitude also affects fishing.
John Dudgeon, study co-author, added: "It was probably easier to go get a rat than it was to go get a fish."
The researchers also drew a link between the early settlers' diet and the Moai statues, which face inland rather than out to sea. They said that while not having a direct relationship, it is interesting that the islanders appear to have turned their backs on the sea for food.
Dudgeon said the statues facing inland may have been the settlers saying "we're turning inwards and not turning outward."
To report problems or to leave feedback about this article, e-mail:
To contact the editor, e-mail:
Most Popular Slideshows
- NFL MNF: Pittsburgh Steelers 30, Houston Texans 23 [PHOTOS]
- 2014 MLB World Series Game 1: San Francisco Giants 7, Kansas City Royals 1 [PHOTOS]
- 2014 MLB World Series - Game 2: Kansas City Royals 7, San Francisco Giants 2 [PHOTOS]
- NFL Thursday Recap - Denver Broncos 35, San Diego Chargers 21: Peyton Manning Has 3 TDs In Easy Win [PHOTOS]
Join the Conversation
- Ebola Virus Might Reach Australia in Months; Health Dept Says Australia Prepared For Outbreak
- Woman, 40, Charged after Six Baby Corpses Found in Canada U-Haul Locker
- ISIS Educates Young Children in 'School of Jihad,' Deploys Them in Active Combat After Graduation [VIDEO]
- Seven Weird Things Banned by Governments
- ISIS Taking U.S.-Airdropped Weapons An 'Embarrassment'; Another Yazidi Massacre Looming [VIDEO]
- ASUS Releases A Teaser Indicating The Arrival of New Zenfone and ZenWatch On October 28
- Boy Stoned To Death For Alleged Rape, Victim Receives Dowry From Militants
- Xiaomi Redmi 1S vs. Sharp Aquos Crystal – Specifications, Features And Price Showdown
- Three Dual SIM Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Duos Variants Comes To China
- Russia is Creating Underwater Combat Robots to Protect its Arctic Territories
- ‘Lone Wolf’ Attack on Canada Parliament Hill Could be ISIS-Related
- Swedish Military Spots ‘Russian Submarine’ Off Stockholm Coast, An Alarming ‘Security Game Changer’