- Getting to Know You
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Q. How did you get into archaeology, and specifically Rapa Nui archaeology? What triggered your interest?
A. I was always fascinated by archaeology as a science. How we can reconstruct a former situation from physical pieces of evidence we find. What especially intrigued me are human migrations and the settling of this planet we live on. The peopling of the Pacific is the last step in that worldwide expansion and the most awe-inspiring one. The courage and impetus it took to set out and find new islands in this seemingly endless ocean is hard to imagine. Part of this fascination is how humans were able to adapt to any kind of environment…first adapt and then gradually transform it. Rapa Nui for me is such an interesting study area because of the degree of adaptation and landscape transformation that took place over the centuries since it was settled.
Q. Who or what do you consider as your most significant influence (scientific or otherwise) either as a person or a particular work (or series of works)?
A. My parents. My father, who as a geologist was the first one to take me along while he was doing surveys and taught me the importance of correct field work as a basis for any scientific research. And my mother in the sense of making the best out of any situation you find yourself in; to be open, positive, and cheerful.
Concerning literature about Rapa Nui, for me the work by Jan Boersema is very important. His reviews and evaluation of the earliest accounts about Rapa Nui show what the situation on the island was like by the time of the arrival of European expeditions. This historical information paints a very different picture from that of a failed society living on a deprived island. Instead, Rapa Nui is described as a prosperous place with healthy people who worship still standing moai. Burkhard Vogt, who has given me the possibility to work on Easter Island, has of course been a significant influence as well.
Q. What theory or project of yours turned out differently from what you had expected as, for example, a complete surprise?
A. The excavations of the German Archaeological Institute that I work for in Ava Ranga Uka A Toroke Hau. Over the course of the years, many initial interpretations had to be changed due to new results from the excavations – and it only got more interesting. What surprised me was the degree of landscape transformation that had taken place at the site; the immense amounts of time, labor, and creative energy that had been invested in creating this elaborate succession of cultural layers and hydraulic architecture.
Q. What would you have done if you had not pursued your current line(s) of research and interests? [End Page 57]
A. I started out doing archaeology of the Americas. I worked on very interesting projects in Mexico, Bolivia, and Peru. Had I not gotten captured by Polynesian archaeology, especially that of Rapa Nui, I would probably still be doing work on “el conti”. Or I would have gone with Plan B, which is working as a horse trainer and riding coach. Looking back, I consider it one of the best decisions and lucky turns of fate that I started working on Rapa Nui at the site of Ava Ranga Uka A Toroke Hau.
Q. What was your best Eureka moment?
A. Hans-Rudolf Bork and Andreas Mieth were the first ones to show me the distinctive palm root channels of the now-extinct Jubaea sp. palm tree in the trench that I am excavating in Ava Ranga Uka A Toroke Hau. Since that moment I knew what to look for and we have found numerous planting pits for palm trees right inside the paved areas in the center of the site. The first time I found those small holes inside a circular stone rim was one of these Eureka moments. For many, this may only be a small thing, but for me it was amazing to find proof that the palm trees were at one point a part...