“Modern man must descend the spiral of his own absurdity to the lowest point; only then can he look beyond it. It is obviously impossible to get around it, jump over it, or simply avoid it.” – Vaclav Havel
Rethinking the Fall of Easter Island New evidence points to an alternative explanation for a civilization’s collapse
When I first went to Rapa Nui to conduct archaeological research, I expected to help confirm this story. Instead, I found evidence that just didn’t fit the underlying timeline. As I looked more closely at data from earlier archaeological excavations and at some similar work on other Pacific islands, I realized that much of what was claimed about Rapa Nui’s prehistory was speculation. I am now convinced that self-induced environmental collapse simply does not explain the fall of the Rapanui.
It was probably a mistake to think of Easter Island as the world’s ecosystem in miniature anyway.
The evidence from elsewhere in the Pacific makes it hard to believe that rats would not have caused rapid and widespread environmental degradation. But there is still the question of how much of an effect rats had relative to the changes caused by humans, who cut down trees for a number of uses and practiced slash-and-burn agriculture. I believe that there is substantial evidence that it was rats, more so than humans, that led to deforestation.
Modern man did his little part, but may not have had much choice. It does look as though the original island forests was over exploited, but man being the resourceful adapter still managed to survive. What finished off the island? Unthinking man that introduced the rats, though we don’t know whether is was through negligence or just naivete. Maybe the thing to learn from Easter Island isn’t that modern western man is a serial screw-up (though that might be true too), but that given knowledge can make better and more rational decisions. Once ecosystems are pushed out of balance it can take generations to make them right again.