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What Really Happened on Easter Island?

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Hundreds of iconic moai statues stand testament to the vibrant civilization that once inhabited Easter Island, but there are far fewer clues about why this civilization mysteriously vanished. Did they shortsightedly exhaust the island’s resources? Were they decimated by European illnesses and slave trade? Or did stow-away rats devastate the native ecosystem? Such theories have spread widely, but recent evidence shows that the truth is not as simple as any one of these alone.
“These different interpretations may be complementary, rather than incompatible,” said Dr. Valentí Rull. “In the last decade, there’s been a burst in new studies, including additional research sites and novel techniques, which demand that we reconsider the climatic, ecological and cultural developments that occurred.” Rull is a senior researcher of the Spanish National Research Council in Barcelona, Spain, and the lead author of an overview on the holistic reassessment of Easter Island history.
This is a close-up of a moai statue.
Photo courtesy of Dr. Valentí Rull
Until recently, the evidence has been limited. Prior sedimentary samples–commonly used as historical records of environmental change–were incomplete, with gaps and inconsistencies in the timeline. Furthermore, past interpretations relied heavily on pollen alone, without incorporating more faithful indicators of climate change. Due to this uncertainty, many fundamental questions remain, not only about why the culture disappeared, but also precisely when these events occurred and how this civilization developed in the first place.

The iconic moai statues are found on Easter Island.
Photo courtesy of Dr. Valentí Rull

Using the latest analytical methods, Rull and his collaborators are beginning to shed light on many of these questions. Complete sedimentary samples now show a continuous record of the last 3000 years, showing how droughts and wet seasons may have influenced the island’s population. Sea travel depended on such weather patterns, resulting in periods of cultural exchange or isolation. Rainfall also impacted native palm forests, with droughts potentially contributing to the island’s eventual deforestation. Radiocarbon dating and DNA analysis of artifacts and human remains are also showing where the inhabitants lived on the island, what they farmed and ate, and the influence of cultures beyond their Polynesian ancestors.

“These findings challenge classical collapse theories and the new picture shows a long and gradual process due to both ecological and cultural changes. In particular, the evidence suggests that there was not an island-wide abrupt ecological and cultural collapse before the European arrival in 1722,” said Rull.

There is much work yet to be done before this mystery is solved, but it is clear that neither environmental nor human activities are solely responsible for the events on Easter Island. Only a combined approach that encompasses climate, ecology, and culture will fully explain how this ancient civilization went extinct.

The article is published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

Contacts and sources:
Michelle Ponto  


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    Total 7 comments
    • Jango

      I have been to Easter Island. It was one of the few times that it was possible to approach their dock due to weather and ocean conditions. The reason they all died is because they cut down all the trees so they starved to death. They had nothing left to burn to cook their food. And when the crops failed, so did they.

      • G

        While you were there, did you see any remaining tree stumps from being cut down or maybe old logs laying in piles broken up from being used

        • Jango

          No because I did not have time to travel over the whole island, but this was the consensus of those that live there.

    • deano

      Easter Is ? Isles de Pascua(spanish)? ……found by Dutch in 1700s on “Easter Sunday”……famous for Moai statues…

      This island is verification of your BIBLICAL FLOOD. > Megalithic stones 30,-60ft high, some 60tns +, knocked over like skittles, & buried to the neck in 40ft of Sediment.
      ## I recommend a Google Earth Map of the Volcano Crater/Rock quarry on the east of the island near the Moai platform at Anekena Bay. There is a HUGE Moai, still being carved from a trench, twice the size of all others, in the proportions & construction style of the 1500tn “broken/unfinished” Obelisk of Egypt still in situ.##

      This remotest island (+2000km nearest land) is a paradox for the mainstream, even making “fibre glass-mini Moai” & doco’s to try to explain how 700-1100AD Polynesians “quarried & transported” them……the trees all felled to use as sledges/rollers or palm rope……never a mention of Thor Heyedal Kon Tiki Sth American balsa journey……

      Not only the Moai, it has the “polyagonal masonry” walls of Peru. They found Sth American potatoes when they arrived. The Polynesians told of a still remembered genocide of the “Long Ears” tribe, the original inhabitants. The Moai have long ears & heads, & very similar to the “Chachapayo Cloud People” statues in Peru.

      The Anakena Bay platform with the row of Moai was “re-erected” in the 20thC. This & the fact most are neck deep in sediment (not lava) casts doubt on the whole “Polynesian Construction”…….the link to Sth America is more puzzling when at the end of the “volcanic isl chain” that spans the Pacific is Paracas. The Paracas where they are finding the ELONGATED SKULLS…..& “mud brick pyramids” at Caral….& the megalithic “polyagonal masonry walls” of Sacayhuaman….
      Anakena Bay?……..Sons of Anak?……Anu-naki?…Tiki?…..Tiwanaku?….The locals on lake TITI-caca make the same reed boats as the Egyptions & the Mesopatamian Marsh dwellers depicted in Sumerian seals…..& apparently used these to “transport” the rebated,core-holed,machine cut andesite blocks to Puma Punku…….like the granite down the Nile……for Nefer-titi….
      ** Isnt it great the American Archaeological Institute is their “monitoring” excavations, up dating us about the glyphs/symbols found on the “buried back of a Moai” excavated recently….& telling us the Paracas Skulls are from deforming from baby cranial-boards …..Go Smithsonian! Go Lazzaroni science!…go team Georgetown…IHS…

    • Judge Roy Bean

      Baal worship and offering up their children to Moloch.

      I don’t buy into the forests cut down thing.

    • King Of Jambalamba

      Jesus pooped out a dinosaur and it ate all the Easter eggs and the inhabitants voted 4 Obama to kill whitey! Jews suck.

    • Anonymous

      lots of unanswered questions, and religious bias won’t allow people to accept reality when it is shown to them.

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