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Easter Island collapse theory questioned

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

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.

Read More: http://www.unexplained-mysteries.com/news/261333/easter-island-collapse-theory-questioned

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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.

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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.

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War

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

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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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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.

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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.

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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
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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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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 :(

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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).

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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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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.

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

Or at least sicken a few dogs!

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I wonder about those seeds found .

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War

Unh.

What is good for?

--Jaylemurph

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Unh.

What is good for?

--Jaylemurph

Jaylemurph! (apologies for my rant the other week)

A few years ago did you not put me right about that Oak Island fantasy? If so... There's another thread on here that needs your wisdom, brother.

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My confusion here is if there were Europeans there before this happened then why no records or journals? We would have noted every tree and crop if we thought it would have benefited a crown of some sort so there must be some kind of account. Maybe they were forced from the island, colonization and all that.

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Unh.

What is good for?

--Jaylemurph

Absolutely nothing !

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Good Gawd y'all

Harte

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I do tend to think that the theory that these people simply over-populated then used up the resources sounds pretty plausible.

Just because they were "primitive" doesn't mean they were wise by any means.

It seems to be a human tendency to live in an ares and if there is abundant resources, they multiply and thus use more and more until nothing is left and whatever remains may be so weak and/or few in number that it cannot replenish itself at a rate that outpaces the usage.

Of course other factors may have played into it too, I think, just like the dinosaurs extinction, it rare that there would be just one factor.

You can have a tribe that happens to be excellent agriculturalists and they still starve if they do not keep their growth in check especially in years when the production is meager. (watch the oak trees sometimes, there are years the acorns are prolific and then suddenly hit a period of little production)

Humans are humans, we procreate ourselves into disaster then blame all sorts of things except our own refusal to control ourselves.

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And then there's the story of how, when first contacted by Europeans, they seemed to be doing okay but by the next time they were visited, they had fallen on hard times.

At least, that's the way I remember it. Am I wrong?

Harte

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Jaylemurph! (apologies for my rant the other week)

A few years ago did you not put me right about that Oak Island fantasy? If so... There's another thread on here that needs your wisdom, brother.

I think it had something to do with the Knights Templar, specifically. I don't know much at all about the specific treasure there. I'll have to look at that thread.

--Jaylemurph

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

Well, eggs did have their part to play. One of the traditions of the Rapa Nui was to elect a village head by holding a contest when the migratory gulls returned to lay their eggs...on the outcroppings in the sea, surrounded by North Side ocean waves crashing onto the sharp volcanic rocks. Contestants had to jump off a cliff, swim through the surging water at the base to the outcrops, climb up the sharp, wet stone (good thing calluses where part of the lifestyle), grab an egg from a completely unsympathetic momma bird (have you seen ocean going seagulls? Those things are huge!), get back to land, climb up the cliff, and be the first to present the egg to the village elder.

Strangely, I tend to think I would respect a leader who had gone through that Lilliputian nightmare a bit more than the ones who play around our political arena.

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