How did Easter Islanders survive without wells or streams?

Photograph of freshwater pool near the coast of Easter Island

Enlarge / A freshwater seep
in the tidal zone near Tongariki. (credit: Brosnan et al. 2018)

Archaeologists are piecing together more details about how the
Rapanui people once
erected the formerly enigmatic stone statues
, or moai. But one
of the island’s lingering mysteries is how the Rapanui found
enough water to sustain thousands of people on a small island.
Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, has no permanent streams, and its three
lakes are hard to reach and far from archaeological evidence of
settlement. But when European colonists arrived in the late 1700s,
thousands of people already lived on the island, and they had to be
getting their drinking water somewhere.

According to geoscientist Tanya Brosnan of California State
University, the Rapanui probably got at least some of their
drinking water from places along the coast where fresh groundwater
seeped out of the island’s bedrock and into the sea. The
resulting mixture would have been brackish but safe to drink, and
it could have sustained populations of thousands on an island with
few other reliable sources of fresh water. That’s common
knowledge among the modern Rapanui people, but it hasn’t been
clear that pre-contact people got their water the same way.

“Our work was certainly not ‘discovering’ anything that
people didn’t already know about. Rather, we worked to put
together an overall picture of groundwater and its accessibility
for past populations,” Binghamton University archaeologist Carl
Lipo, a coauthor on the study, told Ars.

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How did Easter Islanders survive without wells or streams?