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Warning of the Statues

Posted by on January 25, 2014

When I first learned about Easter Island years ago, it stuck in my mind as it has in most who have learned of its story. Its isolation, mystery, and of course the towering stone monuments to a civilization long gone all contributed to its appeal. The wildness of the original theories about the moai statues involving extraterrestrial help were very interesting when I read of their background, and I’m sure they would have been preferable to the truth about the islands actual history.

The Polynesians that settled on Easter Island managed not only to survive for centuries, but they did so while creating “the most advanced of all the Polynesian societies and one of the most complex in the world for its limited resources” (Ponting 4). Limited resources in fact, that originally included plants and animals previously thought never to have been there. I had read some of the research that had been uncovered prior to our class discussions, but it is still shocking to imagine the original view as one of a tropical forest. The archeological evidence provided in the BBC film we watched in class showed not only are humans capable of forcing a native species to go extinct (something that has occurred many times in history), but they will not stop even when that species is the one sustaining their lifestyle. The deforestation that took place was made possible by the one remaining piece of the puzzle; the statues. The many acres of trees that needed to be used for transport of the hundreds of statues were cut down without thought to the possible repercussions.

After coming from environments where trees and wildlife were plentiful, it seemed ridiculous that their resources could run out, it didn’t matter that the island is only about 60 square miles large.  When the trees failed to start growing again, that was when the decline started. While going through the readings and leaning about the continued research, I found an article from American Scientist that had some information I’d never heard of. The settlers brought with them only a few supplies, and among them were chickens and even rats. Although humans were responsible for the removal of virtually every tree and the soil erosion that followed, this article explains how there have been teeth marks attributed to rats on almost all of the palm seeds that have been found. This indicates that rats, who have harmed many species of plants in the past,   may have helped secure Easter Islands fate. A fate however, that would have been avoidable if not for the reckless use of the environment. There were plenty of factors that led to the collapse of the society, but it is a warning to the present day population that it was all brought about by lack of sustainable thinking and no conservation of resources. Our current dependence on non-renewable sources could have the same result in isolation and destruction if not dealt with, and we definitely have more problems in our world today than lack of trees.



6 Responses to Warning of the Statues

  1. cmccartney

    meganking: I definitely thought the same thing while learning about this. My theory was that the people coming from larger places simply had never dealt with loss of resources before, so perhaps the thought never crossed their minds. Or maybe they simply did what many people this generation are doing and thought ‘let the next generation worry about it’!

  2. saydijoy

    I really enjoyed your title of this post as the “Warning of the Statues,” because it was in literal terms raising a big red flag. The rat theory, as I have said on someone else’s blog, might have helped contribute to the deforestation, but I find it highly implausible to be the main reason. It truly is sad how ‘blind” human-beings can appear to be. They have all these advancements yet they can’t see what they have done to the land they live on.

  3. Dr. Szulczewski

    Did you see the other post referring to another story about the rats? This is a great theory and definitely points out the problem with invasive species and how much worse it can get.

  4. Shuaib Ahmad

    Easter Island is a cautionary tale of thinking that advanced societies are not capable of collapsing. Continual choices made that cause environmental damage will at some point not be able to be overcome. The collapse of Easter Island is truly about the impact of the choices that societies make.

  5. meghanking

    The outside research that you found was interesting. While they directly destroyed all the trees, they indirectly prevented any new ones from growing because they had introduced rats to the island. It does make me wonder too, that if they were able to so easily walk around the island how did they not see the limited resources they had?

  6. Hallie Gibson

    I really like your perspective in this post. The Polynesians coming from islands that were plentiful in resources like trees, arrive on an isolated island with limited resources. The fact that they could walk around the island in just a few days indicates to me that they should have had some idea of the limited resources that they had on the island, but their reckless use and depletion of trees shows that they either didn’t acknowledge their limited resources or depended on their gods to provide what they needed. It is interesting to try and imagine being one of the Polynesians coming from a resource rich island to their new home on Easter Island, and learning to adapt to their new environment. Did they practice any sort of conservation on the islands they came from previously, or did their experience having plenty of resources blind them to their situation on Easter Island? The factors that influenced their lives on the Polynesian islands may have been so ingrained in the operation of their society that they couldn’t overcome their previous experiences to adapt fully to their new life on Easter Island.

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