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Archaeology & History

How did the Easter Islanders drink seawater ?

By T.K. Randall
October 3, 2021 · Comment icon 9 comments

The islanders found a novel source of drinking water. Image Credit: CC BY 2.5 Honey Hooper
Researchers have taken a fresh look at how the island's inhabitants drank water directly out of the ocean.
One of the mysteries that met the first Europeans to reach the enigmatic Easter Island was how its inhabitants were able to drink water straight out of the sea.

Normally seawater is not fit for human consumption, but in this case it seemed that some of the water situated around the island's coastline contained very little salt and could be drunk directly.

It was later discovered that this was made possible by 'coastal seeps' - which happen when rainwater sinks down through the porous bedrock of the island and into an underground aquifer.

Small pockets of freshwater then trickle down to the sea and are deposited in the ocean.

Now using drones and modern thermal imaging technology, researchers from Binghamton University in New York have been able to locate these freshwater pockets of coastal seep, enabling a much greater understanding of the processes involved.
"It's somewhat salty, but not unpalatably salty," said study leader Robert DiNapoli.

"It's just not the best-tasting water, basically."

For the early inhabitants of Easter Island, these freshwater pockets would have served as a lifeline at times when the island's only bodies of drinking water dried up in the summer months.

"They were faced with a very difficult place to live, and they came up with these interesting strategies for survival," said DiNapoli.

Without this phenomenon, in fact, it might not have been possible for anyone to live there at all.

Source: Euro News | Comments (9)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Green Lion 3 years ago
The sea is not uniformly salty. There are parts of the ocean that are almost freshwater, and parts that are more salty. I had a hunch a few years ago that this was happening, so I looked it up. I think that's what the article is referring to too.
Comment icon #2 Posted by bison 3 years ago
Fresh water, being slightly less dense than sea water, would rise more or less unmixed  from the seeps on the sea floor and float on the surface. If one were careful not  to dip from too deep below the surface, and as near the location of the seep as possible, the water might be no more salty than true fresh water.
Comment icon #3 Posted by Essan 3 years ago
I recall a previous study which suggested that the positioning of the statues was indended as a means of indicating where such water could be obtained (and/or to "protect" this vital resource)
Comment icon #4 Posted by Abramelin 3 years ago
What about collecting rainwater?
Comment icon #5 Posted by The Silver Shroud 3 years ago
It is a very misleading title. Acording to the article, they did not drink seawater (just as well as they would have died). They drank freshwater which had run into the sea:It was later discovered that this was made possible by 'coastal seeps' - which happen when rainwater sinks down through the porous bedrock of the island and into an underground aquifer. Small pockets of freshwater then trickle down to the sea and are deposited in the ocean.
Comment icon #6 Posted by bison 3 years ago
The article explains that water collected in volcanic craters, during the rainy season, but could be used up, and/or evaporate during the annual Summer season drought. 
Comment icon #7 Posted by razman 3 years ago
You can usually dig the ground on an island and find fresh water. If you ask me , i would say the statues are there to protect the islanders, that is , to potentially scare anyone off that comes close and sees them/
Comment icon #8 Posted by quiXilver 3 years ago
It is also quite simple to create a bamboo and clay vessel distilling process to boil the water away from the salt, then condense it as fresh water in a new container.
Comment icon #9 Posted by Manwon Lender 3 years ago
That's a great idea and i would bet they did that. But on a larger scale boiling Seawater would give you a year around supply of fresh water. The Salt is heavier than the H2O, so when you boil it the salt will stay in the container and by placing some large leaves or something absorbable above the container where the water is boiling to catch the condensation that will begin to accumulate, then all that is needed is something to soak up or channel the condensation into a separate container. Also from what i understand about Easter Island, below the Island surface there were caves that als... [More]

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