Easter Island is one of the most unusual places on the planet. In A Green History of the World Clive Ponting notes, “Easter Island is one of the most remote, inhabited places on earth. Only some 150 square miles in area, it lies in the Pacific Ocean, 2,000 miles off the west coast of South America and 1,250 miles from the nearest inhabitable land of Pitcairn Island,” (Ponting, 1991). The extreme isolation of Easter Island or Rapa Nui is not the islands most distinguishing feature. The most interesting feature of Easter Island is the evidence that an advanced civilization once lived there. The most obvious indication of this advanced civilization existing are the moai (pronounced moe-eye). Moai are the huge statues that everyone associates with Easter Island. In Island at the Center of the World Father Sebastian Englert states, “I suppose that for all time the classic symbol of Easter Island will be a gigantic brooding moai, his lips curled with disdain, gazing out to sea from the slopes of Rano Raraku. Perhaps this is rightly so, for the carving, transportation, and erection of these gigantic monuments were an accomplishment worthy of the highest admiration.” (Englert, 1970).
What is important about the moai is that they could not have been built by a primitive society. Their very existence suggests that Easter Island had to have been home to an advanced civilization. Sculpting and transporting these huge statues would have required a relatively large and organized society. This seemed to be impossible from the conditions observed by the first Europeans. According to Ponting, The Dutch Admiral Roggeveen, onboard the Arena, was the first European to visit the island on Easter Sunday 1722. He found a society in a primitive state with about 3,000 people living in squalid reed huts or caves, engaged in almost perpetual warfare and resorting to cannibalism in a desperate attempt to supplement the meager food supplies available on the island (Ponting, 1991).
The idea that the Islanders could have had the technologies and social organization to make the moai seemed to be impossible to early European visitors. After all large populations and food surpluses would have been needed to maintain a civilization capable of building these huge monuments. The people on Easter Island seemed to be too primitive and the resources on the Island seemed to be too small to support a population large enough to build these amazing statues.
The poor conditions of both the island and the population on it conceal a totally different history for the people of Easter Island. Easter Island had not always been a desolate place. In fact when the first inhabitants settled on Easter Island it had many natural resources. According to Richard Grossman in Overpopulation and the Fate of Easter Island, “It is thought that they arrived in the fifth century C.E. The pollen record shows that they found a lush island, with many great trees. At its peak the island supported four thousand people. Their reconstructed history then shows a downward spiral marked by overconsumption of the island’s limited resources,” (Grossman, 2001).
What Grossman and many other researchers have discovered is that Easter Island has not always been a desolate place devoid of trees and other natural resources. In reality Easter Island was originally rich in natural resources like forests, wildlife and fish of every imaginable type. What seems to have happened is that the population kept growing and eventually the Island’s resources could not support the population. This resulted in the barren appearance of the Island and its’ relatively small population. Some details of Easter Island’s past are hotly debated. Researchers can’t seem to agree on who first settled the island? When the island was first settled? How large the population of the island got? When resource overconsumption started to become a major problem? When the civilization itself finally broke down? Although,...
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