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Debate: Outsiders blamed for Easter Island’s historic demise

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posted on Aug, 3 2010 @ 12:09 PM

Debate: Outsiders blamed for Easter Island’s historic demise

Outsiders blamed for Easter Island’s historic demise
An archaeologist studying a remote Pacific island, world famous for its strange stone statues, says outsiders - and not its ancestors - should be blamed for its historic demise hundreds of years ago.

Dr Karina Croucher from The University of Manchester says her research backs a growing body of opinion which casts new light on the people living on the island of Rapa Nui, named ‘Easter Island’ by its discoverers in 1722.

“Easter Islanders’ ancestors have been unfairly accused by Westerners of being primitive and warlike, for toppling statues - or moai - and for over-exploiting the island’s natural resources,” she said.

But the art which adorns Easter Island’s landscape, volcanoes and statues, body tattoos and carved wooden figurines, when examined together, show a different picture of what the islanders were like, according to Dr Croucher.

Her study defies the long-held belief that the Easter Island culture caused it's own demise through deforestation of their island. She holds that contact with Westerners were the direct cause of the islander's demise.

Conventional views hold that the islanders, during the construction and transport of the "Moai", would have required a large amount of wood and fiber, to build sleds or other sliding platforms, to make ropes, and to create levers to help position the statues, that stripped the island bare leading to a host of problems that ultimately undermined their society and ability to sustain themselves. That is generally the consensus held in most studies of the islander's demise, as exemplified below;

Easter Island Mystery revealed using mathematical model
Rhett A. Butler,, September 1, 2005

This study concludes that the demise of Palm forests is to blame for the gradual degradation of the Easter Islanders, due to their introduction of rats to the island.

The Easter Island of ancient times supported a sub-tropical forest complete with the tall Easter Island Palm, a tree suitable for building homes, canoes, and latticing necessary for the construction of such statues. With the vegetation of the island, natives had fuelwood and the resources to make rope. With their sea-worthy canoes, Easter Islanders lived off a steady diet of porpoise. A complex social structure developed complete with a centralized government and religious priests.

Around 1400 the Easter Island palm became extinct due to overharvesting. Its capability to reproduce has become severely limited by the proliferation of rats, introduced by the islanders when they first arrived, which ate its seeds. In the years after the disappearance of the palm, ancient garbage piles reveal that porpoise bones declined sharply. The islanders, no longer with the palm wood needed for canoe building, could no longer make journeys out to sea. Consequently, the consumption of land birds, migratory birds, and mollusks increased.

The conclusion by Butler is that "Easter Island is a prime example of what widespread deforestation can do to a society. As the forests are depleted, the quality of life falls, and then order is lost. The example of Easter Island should be enough for us to reconsider our current practices."

The barren landscape of Rapa Nui

The debate still rages on - Sacredsites has listed several articles that go back and forth, who or what is to blame for their downfall? Early Western explorers, or their own rapacious appetite for the environment?

I'm sure it was a little bit of both - the islander's society was sick, perhaps on it's last legs, but humans can be tenacious. Canoes were in use that were over a hundred years old, the sea was still providing nourishment, and they no longer were building or transporting Moai that took such a toll on the island's ecosystem. Perhaps the forest would have restored itself. Then the Westerner's arrived along with new diseases and pests which struck the final blow.

posted on Aug, 3 2010 @ 02:15 PM

Originally posted by BlackmarketeerCanoes were in use that were over a hundred years old, the sea was still providing nourishment, and they no longer were building or transporting Moai that took such a toll on the island's ecosystem. Perhaps the forest would have restored itself. Then the Westerner's arrived along with new diseases and pests which struck the final blow.

The paper yopu quoted claims these rats came along with the islanders themselves, not with later European explorers (though they no doubt brought rats as well.)

Do you have any reason at all to disbelieve the one over the other?

I don't think the author would have included in his paper this:

Its capability to reproduce has become severely limited by the proliferation of rats, introduced by the islanders when they first arrived, which ate its seeds.

without some reason for so stating, do you?

If it is your assertion that the rats were not brought to Easter Island by the original migrants landing there, can you present any evidence that might uphold that stance?


posted on Aug, 3 2010 @ 05:32 PM
There's no doubt the Polynesians brought rats with them when they arrived, which contributed to the decimation of the palms. I didn't see anything in Croucher's article that addressed that point, nor denied it, rather she claims disease-carrying rats imported by contact with Westerner's should be given greater relevance in their fate (along with slave raids and disease).

Croucher's article places blame on contact with Westerners, which runs counter to the conventional thinking the islanders did themselves in. The slave trade did eradicate the vestiges of the original culture on the island.


Returning natives also brought with them disease (small pox) the rest of the island population had no immunity to.

IMO the Moai-building culture had already vanished by the time Westerners arrived because, as conventional view holds, they had indeed wiped out their forests and their ecosystems ability to sustain a large population.

posted on Aug, 4 2010 @ 10:45 AM
From either perspective, Easter Island represented a nasty dystopia. Self-induced stagnation and deprivation through social behaviours and environmental damage combined with the later influx of diseases from doesn't paint a pretty picture does it?!

Just as a point of interest, I wonder where the evidence of tribal infighting and generational warfare is found? I'm not saying there isn't any after a cursory look through google scholar. It's just curiosity. Egyptian, Greek and Roman cemeteries/burials have skeletons with signs of injury. For example, broken forearms from fights or battles. Is there some evidence of Easter Islander's graves containing burials with head wounds etc?

For amusement, check out this article, it begins halfway down...Other Stoned Heads from Easter Island. I'll never think of Easter Island in the same way again

posted on Aug, 4 2010 @ 11:03 AM
Easter Island was in a sad state of affairs by the time it was "Discovered"
no doubt. But, From what I've read and I'm no expert. The Islanders were doing their best at the time of the "Discovery" by the west to function as an isolated society and cope with the world they had created for themselves.

Simply because the islands ecosystem was in shambles compared to the way it probably was when the islanders themselves found it hundreds [or thousands] of years previously doesn't necessarily mean it was a failure. They were still alive and still there. Just in reduced numbers and not wasting their time carving idols anymore.

Let's be real here though. After the landings and subsequent visits the Island went from bad to worse IMO. Wasn't there slave ships that came and took some of the Islander and wasn't there also an outbreak of smallpox etc?

[edit on 4-8-2010 by SLAYER69]

posted on Aug, 5 2010 @ 05:35 PM
I remember reading a lot on the subject last century (when I was much younger) -- local legends tell of a war between the "long ears" (those with pierced ears, who practiced earlobe enlargement) and the "short ears." I can see the rats being a part of the deforestation issue as well as the locals' use of timbers.

An interesting paper. I wonder what's been found since it was written in 2005.

posted on Nov, 27 2010 @ 01:21 PM
I think that that it gives the Westerners who landed there to much credit, assigns them too much power, to say that they were the only cause of the island's downfall. Was the island in bad shape and then the Westerners' landing was the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back"? That sounds quite reasonable.

posted on Nov, 27 2010 @ 06:38 PM
reply to post by Blackmarketeer

there is significant evidence that the downfall of easter island society was caused by massive deforestation caused by the islanders themselves. When the polynesians first arrived there the island was covered with an extensive old growth forest, within just a few generations that forest was was gone.

the archeological evidence clearly shows the degredation in the inhabitants food sources as time goes on.
Not only did they cut down the forests, they killed off almost all of the native bird species, the only ones remaining were on the surrrounding islets.
Jared Diamonds book "Collapse:How Societies choose to Fail or succeed" has an excellent case study of the easter island collapse along with that of several other polynesian societies.
Im reading it right now as a matter of fact, very interesting stuff.

The easter island collapse is clearly a case of over population and limited resources.

posted on Nov, 27 2010 @ 06:47 PM
reply to post by SLAYER69

by the time the first Euro's arrived the islands society had already collapsed a couple of hundred years earlier, and the population was down to a small fraction (5-10%) of what it had been at its peak. Had it had another couple of generations undisturbed there might not have been anyone left just as in a couple of other polynesian settled islands that were stepping stones to easter, like pitcairn
Like i said in the previous post The book collapse is an excellent study of what happened on easter island.

I highly suggest reading it to anyone interested in how several different societies have failed.
The internal social pressures on a primative society are almost always in direct relation degradating food supplies in respones to deforestation, over use of the land for agriculture, or climate change or a combo of those reasons.
edit on 27-11-2010 by punkinworks10 because: (no reason given)

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