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.