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Easter Island (Rapa Nui) deforestation has traditionally been viewed as a single event, synchronous in time and space across the island and caused by Polynesian settlers. However, recent studies have challenged this idea, introducing the concept of spatiotemporal heterogeneity and suggesting a role for climate change. This paper presents a continuous paleovegetation record of the last millennium (~960 to ~1710 CE), based on palynological analysis of a core from Lake Kao. During this time interval, deforestation was gradual, with three main pulses at ~1070 CE, ~1410 CE, and ~1600 CE, likely driven by drought, anthropogenic practices (mostly fire), or the coupling of both. Some forest regeneration trends have been documented after the first and the second deforestation pulses. Forests were totally removed by 1600 CE, coinciding with the full permanent human settlement of the Kao area. Comparison with other continuous palynological records available for the last millennium (Aroi marsh and Lake Raraku) confirms that forest clearing was heterogeneous in time and space, rather than synchronous island-wide.
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Seco, Irantzu; Rull, Valenti; Montoya, Encarni; Cañellas-Boltà, Núria; Giralt, Santiago; Margalef, Olga; Pla-Rabes, Sergi; D'Andrea, William J.; Bradley, Raymond S.; and Sáez, Alberto, "A Continuous Palynological Record of Forest Clearing at Rano Kao (Easter Island, SE Pacific) During the Last Millennium: Preliminary Report" (2019). Quaternary. 19.