Earthwatch researcher Sonia Haoa Cardinali was born on Easter Island; she is the island's coordinator of national monuments and a leader in the preservation of its heritage.
Why Easter Island?
“When you approach the coastal temples (ahu) and the statue (moai) quarry for the first time, you will have that ‘National Geographic’ moment,” she has said. “They are unforgettable. The archaeology of the domestic sphere of life is also richly detailed. The houses, ovens, chicken houses, stone quarries, and gardens are visible on the surface and present us with many clues about how the past society was organized. With a little experience, what first appear as random clusters of unworked stone soon become recognizable as important features from the past. We are in the process of putting these features together to form a coherent picture of past ways of life.”
A great moment in the field:
Ms. Haoa Cardinali was part of the research team that discovered some moai had colored eyes made from white coral and red scoria (lava), emphasizing their importance in religious ceremonies. In addition, she and her colleague (and former Earthwatch scientist) Dr. Chris Stevenson advanced the theory that the infamous collapse of the island's civilization was not the straightforward ecocide by deforestation that researchers and the public had believed. What’s more, she's helped demonstrate that her ancestors had, in fact, developed a sophisticated agricultural system of rock-gardening, designed to trap moisture and to retain and fertilize poor soils, in part as a response to diminishing resources.