The Making of Rapa Nui: Materialising Island Worlds

Thursday, March 9, 2023 5:00 PM


Professor of Prehistory

UCL Institute of Archaeology



Rapa Nui (Easter Island) is a tiny, remote Pacific island. It is known for the colossal stone statues sculptured by its earliest communities c. AD 1200, and for the apparent sudden end of this tradition four to six hundred years later. Isolated from other lands by the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, Rapa Nui affords great potential for micro-historical analysis of the island's archaeology as a ‘whole’. Equally, this has facilitated the island's use and misuse by scholars as a microcosm for generating global perspectives on pressing contemporary issues such as the mismanagement of resources and the impacts of colonial encounter on small-scale societies.  Within this range of context, the lecture presents the multi-scalar island-wide fieldwork of the Rapa Nui Landscapes of Construction Project. It explores concepts of colonising empty islands and the roles of ideologies in the making of place, and how this is materialised in architectures, artefacts, and successful landscape management. It concludes by considering the role of persistent heritages, and their material remains, in supporting, renewing, and powerfully resituating contemporary Rapanui identities in a Polynesian context.



Sue Hamilton is Professor of Prehistory at the UCL Institute of Archaeology and has just completed an 8-year term as its Director. She is now on sabbatical completing writing-up a decade of work on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and her new book, The Making of Rapa Nui. She has directed large-scale inter-disciplinary landscape projects on past environments and their archaeology in the UK, Europe, and Rapa Nui (Easter Island). These projects advance the application of archaeological phenomenology and sensory archaeology beyond the boundaries of traditional archaeological practice. Her work explores sensory archaeology and environmental perception as skilled field practice. Her current research considers the interfaces between social and sensory practice, and the implications of these for interpreting material culture. In particular, the Rapa Nui Landscapes of Construction Project mixes traditional fieldwork with innovative methodologies and interpretative approaches in a combination unique in Pacific Studies. During her stay at Stanford, she is keen to discuss themes of interpretative archaeology relating to materiality and the senses, and how these concepts can be robustly explored via fieldwork. Sue Hamilton’s published works include the books Sensual and Social Landscapes of the Prehistory of Northern Puglia, S. Italy (2021 with R Whitehouse); Stone Worlds: Narrative and Reflexivity in Landscape Archaeology (2007 with B Bender and C Tilley); and Archaeology and Women (2007 edited with K Wright and R Whitehouse).