Prehistoric Horticultural Practices on Easter Island: Lithic Mulched Gardens and Field Systems
Easter Island illustrates the importance of cultivation in support of large populations. Between the 9th and the 17th centuries an estimated 5000-10000 people were supported by their chiefs and kin groups including non-food producing members of society, such as the craftspeople who constructed, moved an~ erected the ahu and carved stone moai. Subsequent to the 17 century, as the centralized chiefdom gave way to competition among clans for leadership, warriors and competitors affiliated with the "Birdman cult" were also supported through cultivation of tuber and tree crops, the major means of subsistence for those who lived on Easter Island prior to European contact. Food production took on added importance as a subsistence practice, because terrestrial and marine faunal resources were reduced through exploitation that occurred between the 16th and 19th centuries (Ayres 1986; Steadman 1995) and possibly as a result of natural climatic changes between the 16th and 19th centuries (McCall 1993).