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Easter Island collapse theory questioned


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#1    UM-Bot

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Posted 24 January 2014 - 12:27 PM

Academics have cast doubt on the idea that the inhabitants used up all the island's natural resources.

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The enigmatic Pacific island has long held the attention of archaeologists who have struggled to understand exactly what it was that wiped out the people famous for building hundreds of giant stone head statues.

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#2    Sundew

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Posted 24 January 2014 - 12:41 PM

If they did not destroy their resources and being Polynesians, a great seafaring race, perhaps they just moved on. Or being Polynesians, like the Hawaiians who were decimated by first contact with western diseases, perhaps they brought in a plague from contact with humans in South America for which they had no immunity.

I wound not discount the resource theory; they have found seeds of an extinct palm tree similar to the genus Jubaea in some of the caves of the island. Jubaea is one of the most massive living palms and it is thought they used the trunks for rollers to move the stones for their statues. The fact that no specimen of the palms lives today certainly shows they altered their environment, and this species was at one time useful to them. I believe that scientists feel the island was once heavily forested and today is mostly grassland.


#3    Myles

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Posted 24 January 2014 - 12:43 PM

I have to think that the depletion of the resources certainly played a factor.   Without the lush palm forests, a drought would be enough to cause devestation.    Of course disease is possible.


#4    Frank Merton

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Posted 24 January 2014 - 12:44 PM

War


#5    Eldorado

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Posted 24 January 2014 - 12:59 PM

I blame those Easter Eggs.  Chocolate has been known to kill a man!


#6    Sir Smoke aLot

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Posted 24 January 2014 - 12:59 PM

I think that when they got in contact with 'more civilized' people that was the end of their way of life and existance.

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#7    Calibeliever

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Posted 24 January 2014 - 04:17 PM

View PostSir Smoke aLot, on 24 January 2014 - 12:59 PM, said:

I think that when they got in contact with 'more civilized' people that was the end of their way of life and existance.
As do a lot of people. Diamond's work has been criticized for a long time for being too myopic. He had an environmental axe to grind and used Easter Island as a shining example of man's evil and careless ways leading to his own destruction. He may have a good point about modern expoitation, but very few have ever really bought the cut and dry explanation for the population decline of the Rappa Nui. A decline, which by the way, that did not really begin until contact with Europeans.

Fact: Once there were trees and lots of people.
Fact: Now there are very few of either.

It's easy to jump to a simple conclusion there which is why Diamond's theory gained so much traction. I even remember a TV movie about it years ago. But as with all things, a little digging reveals a more complex answer.


#8    Myles

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Posted 24 January 2014 - 04:43 PM

View PostCalibeliever, on 24 January 2014 - 04:17 PM, said:

As do a lot of people. Diamond's work has been criticized for a long time for being too myopic. He had an environmental axe to grind and used Easter Island as a shining example of man's evil and careless ways leading to his own destruction. He may have a good point about modern expoitation, but very few have ever really bought the cut and dry explanation for the population decline of the Rappa Nui. A decline, which by the way, that did not really begin until contact with Europeans.

Fact: Once there were trees and lots of people.
Fact: Now there are very few of either.

It's easy to jump to a simple conclusion there which is why Diamond's theory gained so much traction. I even remember a TV movie about it years ago. But as with all things, a little digging reveals a more complex answer.

I had never heard that.   I thought the population was minimal by the time the Europeans arrived.


#9    ancient astronaut

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Posted 24 January 2014 - 05:12 PM

Well, at one time there were over 20,000 Rapa Nui people on living on the island, so the idea that they(Rapa Nui)used all their resources up is a viable theory. I personally believe that they (Rapa Nui)stuck it out until everything was gone, and left the island for "greener pastures" so to speak.

Edited by ancient astronaut, 24 January 2014 - 05:13 PM.


#10    Xynoplas

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Posted 24 January 2014 - 05:31 PM

View PostMyles, on 24 January 2014 - 12:43 PM, said:

I have to think that the depletion of the resources certainly played a factor.   Without the lush palm forests, a drought would be enough to cause devestation. Of course disease is possible.

I've heard it said that: "The prevailing theory is that the islanders, known as the Rapa Nui, wiped themselves out over time by using up all of the island's resources in their statue-building endeavors, earning them the accolade of being the best known example of a society that destroyed itself through over-exploitation.

"In recent years however this idea has been called in to question, mainly on the basis that the Rapa Nui, far from exhibiting such recklessness, seemed to be masters of agricultural engineering and were more than capable of fertilizing the soil sufficiently to grow the crops needed to feed themselves.

"Scientific evidence also seems to suggest that the islanders didn't waste all of their resources, with radiocarbon data indicating that the island was utilized well past the point at which European travelers arrived. There is also evidence to suggest that the removal of the trees happened very gradually over the course of several hundred years."

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#11    Calibeliever

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Posted 24 January 2014 - 06:01 PM

View PostMyles, on 24 January 2014 - 04:43 PM, said:

I had never heard that.   I thought the population was minimal by the time the Europeans arrived.
Well, I overstated and a bit of quick fact checking shows the case. In 1722 and estimate of the population was 2000-3000. Archeologists think there may have been 10-20K at one time. Which would indicate a decline from it's peak. So I stand a little red-faced since I said the decline didn't happen until European contact. I should have said full-collapse.

It is certainly reasonable to assume deforestation played a role in that decline. I wasn't suggesting otherwise. But the characterization has always been that they cut down all the tress and then quickly perished, which simply isn't the whole truth.

Back to my corner for time-out :(


#12    Myles

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Posted 24 January 2014 - 06:41 PM

View PostXynoplas, on 24 January 2014 - 05:31 PM, said:

I've heard it said that: "The prevailing theory is that the islanders, known as the Rapa Nui, wiped themselves out over time by using up all of the island's resources in their statue-building endeavors, earning them the accolade of being the best known example of a society that destroyed itself through over-exploitation.

"In recent years however this idea has been called in to question, mainly on the basis that the Rapa Nui, far from exhibiting such recklessness, seemed to be masters of agricultural engineering and were more than capable of fertilizing the soil sufficiently to grow the crops needed to feed themselves.

"Scientific evidence also seems to suggest that the islanders didn't waste all of their resources, with radiocarbon data indicating that the island was utilized well past the point at which European travelers arrived. There is also evidence to suggest that the removal of the trees happened very gradually over the course of several hundred years."

No matter how capable they were, having only limited forest through a drought would be devestating.   Having 15,000 people on an island that size would use up the resources fairly quickly (that could be 100 years).


#13    Xynoplas

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Posted 24 January 2014 - 06:48 PM

I don't know that much; I am not thoroughly schooled in the history of Rapa Nui, and I have never been there.

Everything I know is through the History channel and Wikipedia. ;)

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#14    Myles

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Posted 24 January 2014 - 08:36 PM

View PostCalibeliever, on 24 January 2014 - 06:01 PM, said:

Well, I overstated and a bit of quick fact checking shows the case. In 1722 and estimate of the population was 2000-3000. Archeologists think there may have been 10-20K at one time. Which would indicate a decline from it's peak. So I stand a little red-faced since I said the decline didn't happen until European contact. I should have said full-collapse.

It is certainly reasonable to assume deforestation played a role in that decline. I wasn't suggesting otherwise. But the characterization has always been that they cut down all the tress and then quickly perished, which simply isn't the whole truth.

Back to my corner for time-out :(

All good.   I figure they cut down the trees through a few generations.   Till it got almost to the point of no return.   I wish I believed that humans would just stop when it looked like they were raping the resources too much.    Not much in our history shows the ability to do that.


#15    Sundew

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Posted 24 January 2014 - 09:10 PM

View PostEldorado, on 24 January 2014 - 12:59 PM, said:

I blame those Easter Eggs.  Chocolate has been known to kill a man!

Or at least sicken a few dogs!





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