18 August 2008

Cave Ecology and Conducting a Television Interview in Spanish

Originally drafted 17 August 2008

Dan, Pete and I at the entrance of one of our study sites. Credit: Christina Colpitts.

Life and the work continues to go well here on Rapa Nui. Today, we worked only half day. The team had several logistics issues to iron out (launching temperature sensors, prepping traps for deployment, organizing sampling gear, etc.). Also, I gave a couple of my canned presentations on cave ecology to the team, as well as to Sergio and Terry.

A fern and moss garden in the entrance of our of our study caves. I have observed, but yet to study these ecosystems in El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico. These ecotones are quite common in the caves of Rapa Nui. It is quite possible that this is one of the only native plant communities remaining on the island.

Through giving these presentations, we formulated many great ideas regarding how to combine archaeology and ecology into a multi-disciplinary approach to understanding cave ecosystems. Sergio and I are now in the process of developing a proposal so my team and I may return to continue working on the island. If funded, we will work for Sergio and the Rapa Nui community. I would like the opportunity to train several of the locals how to inventory, map and conduct cave research safely.

Knutt, Christina and I gearing up to enter the cave. Credit: Dan Ruby.

If such a project were to get funded, this would be incredible for me. While I’ve lived and traveled to many interesting places thus far, this island is my most favorite place I have visited to date. I’ve lived in Belgium for a year, traveled to northern Scotland and the Outer Hebrides, and throughout western Europe, Belize, Guatemala, Mexico and Canada. With all of these experiences, I can say little compares to Rapa Nui. I’ve never been on an oceanic island. We are ~ 3,000 miles west of the Continent (i.e., Chile) and ~2,400 miles from Tahiti. We are truly isolated here, and it feels great. Time seems to stand still here.

Note the rectangular stone with holes bored into it. This stone is located near the entrance of a cave. Sergio indicates these are foundation stones to the homes of the ancient Rapa Nui. We have observed them within the entrances of several caves we have evaluated for this work. Warfare ensued during the end of the ancient Rapa Nui's reign. Consequently, the people moved into and fortified the caves for protection. These stones were apparently moved from their home plots and used to fortify caves.

Dirty Dan. As you can see, our study sites are muddy and full of water. Credit: Christina Colpitts.

There is an incredibly impressive history of cave use by the people of Rapa Nui. Between 150 – 200 years ago, after the island had been largely deforested, the island underwent a period of extreme poverty. Warfare ensued and there was even a brief period of cannibalism. The people of Rapa Nui built fortifications within caves, and they actually lived within caves for years. They built the entrances to their cave homes in such a way that one entering would have to clumsily climb through a narrow passage over rocks and boulders. This was a good protective strategy. If someone uninvited tried to enter the cave, the people on the receiving end of this unwanted visitor.

Knutt and I preparing to go into the field, but first we had to check out the Moai. Credit: Dan Ruby.

We were able to depart for the field around 1300hr. Sergio went into the field with us. My plan was to send the rest of the team into the cave to begin the work, while I met with Sergio. I wanted him to see the caves we were sampling and to determine whether these caves were okay to sample. He also took this opportunity to show me where some of the larger caves in the area where we are working. The team began the ecology work, and Sergio, Carolina, and I went to look at both our study sites, as well as other caves.

While we were en route to the field, Sergio mentioned that a Madrid film crew would be arriving at the caves, and asked if I’d be willing to do an interview. He indicated he told them about the cave ecology research, and that they were most interested in discussing it with me. So, I decided I’d do the interview. However, I didn’t realize this until the film crew arrived that I would be giving the entire interview in Spanish! Well, I’ve been living in a Spanish speaking country the past four and a half weeks and using Spanish quite a bit, so I accepted being thrown into the deep end while on camera. They asked me many questions regarding both our work on Rapa Nui, as well as our work in the Atacama Desert. The interview was about 20 minutes, and I was able to answer all but one question without any problems. For the final question, I had to ask the interviewer to rephrase the question. Once he did, I was able to figure out what he was asking and then I could answer the question.

Once the interview was over, I promptly said my goodbyes to the film crew, and left to meet up with the rest of the team. I had grown weary of being interviewed, and being asked to walk up and down the length of one cave numerous times to get enough video of a “real” cave scientist for the piece they were doing.

I was ready to return to the mission – conducting science. So, when I arrived back at the cave, I learned the team had deployed all by one trap array. So, I went through and checked what the team had done, we then deployed three more traps within the cave and three on the surface, and we were done.

I also had the distinct and unique opportunity to pick guava fruit after the work was done. As Dan and I were walking back to the truck, he asked me…”where else on the planet can you conduct cave research, then walk out of the cave and begin picking guava?” I promptly responded, “I don’t know. Who cool is this.” Rapa Nui is truly an incredible place!

Knutt and I working. Credit: Dan Ruby.

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