Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Collapse of Easter Island

I was recently reading Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond. It is an excellent book and I found it thought provoking. A chapter of the book focused on Easter Island and how the Polynesian settlers there via civil war and resource exploitation wrecked the ecosystem of the island.

I also have been following the recent campaign by the government of Chile to get Easter Island to be declared one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. How wonderful are the Moai (giant statues) that are all over the island? A recent show I was watching on the History Channel referenced Easter Island as proof of alien interventions in the past of humanity. However, I give the alien hypothesis no credibility. Humans built the monuments on Easter Island and they also destroyed the environment as well. The paradise of Easter Island was ruined by good old human nature.

However, my recent exposures to Easter Island have made me curious about the collapse of Easter Island. As such, I have sought out a few good Web resources on the topic. Here are some I found useful:

History of Easter Island - "At the time of Roggeveens discovery the island probably contained from 2000 to 3000 inhabitants of Polynesian race but it appears that there were as many as 10,000 to15,000 of them in the 16th and 17th Centuries. The civilization of Easter Island had degenerated drastically during the 100 years before the arrival of the Dutch, owing to the overpopulation, deforestation and exploitation of the extremely isolated island with its limited natural resources."

Easter Island's End - "I suspect, though, that the disaster happened not with a bang but with a whimper. After all, there are those hundreds of abandoned statues to consider. The forest the islanders depended on for rollers and rope didn't simply disappear one day-it vanished slowly, over decades. Perhaps war interrupted the moving teams; perhaps by the time the carvers had finished their work, the last rope snapped. In the meantime, any islander who tried to warn about the dangers of progressive deforestation would have been overridden by vested interests of carvers, bureaucrats, and chiefs, whose jobs depended on continued deforestation."

The Chilling Tale of Easter Island - "When the last palm was cut down there was no longer the wood to make the heavy canoes needed for long sea voyages or to hunt the porpoises that were an important part of the Islanders diet. With the porpoises gone the people had to turn even more to the seabirds, and then the rats, as a source of food. When they were gone, starvation resulted, the government collapsed and cannibalism appeared. Human bones started to find their way into trash pits."

The Lessons of Easter Island - "What amazed and intrigued the first European visitors was the evidence, amongst all the squalor and barbarism, of a once flourishing and advanced society. Scattered across the island were over 600 massive stone statues, on average over twenty feet high. When anthropologists began to consider the history and culture of Easter Island early in the twentieth century they agreed on one thing. The primitive people living in such poverty-stricken and backward conditions when the Europeans first visited the island could not have been responsible for such a socially advanced and technologically complex task as carving, transporting and erecting the statues."

There are problems with comparing Easter Island and the Earth. The analogy is not quite an exact one. However, there is some truth to it which is why Jared Diamond's coverage of Easter Island is so fascinating and powerful. Is the Easter Island tragedy now happening on a global scale? Regardless, the whole history of Easter Island is well worth researching and reading about.


jacqueline said...

Here is an interesting article from the American Scientist by an archaeologist the rebukes Diamond's finding on Easter Island. I haven't read Collapse so I am not sure how it lines up against it. But I think it is worth checking out.

Jennie W said...

Okay, so this isn't really scholarly, but here's a comic to go with your post:
-I think it always go to the current day. This is from 12/8/06.

Miland said...

Thanks Jennie. The permanent url for this cartoon is

CityUnslicker said...

I do not see the link to the current world. We are not about to run out of resources in any way conceivable. Even the fear of recking the environment will be overcome with great ease in years to come (still will be expensive though).