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Archaeology & History

Study challenges idea that Easter Island's people committed 'ecocide'

By T.K. Randall
June 24, 2024 · Comment icon 2 comments

Could the population of Easter Island have always been small ? Image Credit: CC BY 3.0 Bradenfox
There may have simply been a much smaller population of people living on the island all along.
Best known for its enigmatic stone heads, Easter Island is often cited as an example of a place where its native population collapsed because of unsustainable environmental destruction.

In particular, it was thought that the people of Easter Island cut down all the trees to create rock gardens (to grow crops) and to move the enormous stone heads into place.

This meant that when the first European explorers arrived, there were few of the native inhabitants left.

Now, though, a new study has called this whole scenario into serious doubt by suggesting that the population of Easter Island may have never been particularly large to begin with.

Whereas previous research had suggested that the island had a population of up to 17,000 at its peak, a renewed analysis focusing on the islander's rock gardening sites has indicated that the population may have never been much more than 3,900.

In other words, the people of Easter Island may have always lived within their means.
"Our study confirms that the island couldn't have supported more than a few thousand people," said study co-author Dr Dylan Davis of Columbia University.

"As such, contrary to the ecocide narrative, the population present at European arrival wasn't the remnants of Rapa Nui society, but was likely the society at its peak, living at the levels that were sustainable on the island."

Even the massive stone heads found dotted around the island could have been created and moved into position by a small population providing everyone worked together.

"One of the major arguments for an 'ecocide' was that the populations must have been very large in order to build all of the moai statues," said Davis.

"However, archaeological evidence does not support a large population and studies of the moai themselves suggest that a small population could have built and moved them."

"It just required cooperation."

Source: The Guardian | Comments (2)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Tatetopa 24 days ago
Its a good article. The farming evidence is cool. Did they preserve their forests? If not, they were stuck on the island. Without boats, there would be no escape.
Comment icon #2 Posted by Montello 24 days ago
ancient civilisation

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