A new study shows that the ancient civilization on the Rapa Nui Island, or Easter Island, may have dwindled due to extreme environmental conditions, rather than deforestation and thoughtless land use, as previous studies have shown.
The Easter Island is a very isolated 63.2-square-mile (163.6 square kilometers) island located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean. The first settlers came on the island in 1,200 A.D. In 1995, UNESCO declared the island a World Heritage Site due to the moai, huge human statues designed to celebrate the Rapa Nui ancestors.
Previous researches revealed that the native Polynesians living on the Pacific island almost went extinct due to land exploitation and deforestation of the palm jungle covering their tiny island. Other studies showed that the island’s population collapsed after the European invasion. Europeans brought along diseases that decimated the native population, while several of the natives were taken up into captivity by their conquerors.
However, the new study shows that the Easter Island population had already dwindled when Europeans set foot on the island. By 1722, the population was already scarce and was no longer involved in agricultural activities.
Prof Thegn Ladefoged, lead author of the study and anthropology professor at the University of Auckland, New Zeeland said that the result of the new research were quite surprising to him and his colleagues. Mr. Ladefoged explained that the new findings suggest that Easter Island society didn’t collapse due to sloppy agricultural practices and deforestation. The Rapa Nui went almost extinct due to extreme weather and environmental conditions, such as lack/too much rainfall and low soil quality.
These conditions caused a decline in population, not extinction BEFORE European contact, researchers said.
Scientists analyzed more than 400 obsidian tools and flakes used by the island’s natives in their daily activities. By dating and studying those tools scattered at various archaeological sites on the island, the researchers could tell how, when and how much the ancient Rapa Nui used the island’s natural resources.
The findings revealed that there wasn’t uniformity across the island in land and forest use. So, researchers concluded that environmental constraints led to civilization decline, rather than human activity.
“While we do not have direct population data, it is clear that people were reacting to regional environmental variation on the island before they were devastated by the introduction of European diseases and other historic processes,”
Prof Ladefoged said.
His team said that their findings could help other researchers determine the true reasons of other sudden collapses in ancient civilizations.
The study was published January 5 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Image Source: Zicasso