The Collapse of Pitcairn Island

and Henderson and Mangavera Islands

By David Siegel and Claudia Guerrero


The Henderson island collapsed because it was hard to survive. Henderson island

unlike Mangareva or Pitcairn, is not volcanic--it's a coral reef that geologic processes thrust up 100 feet above sea level and is therefore devoid of basalt or other volcanic rocks suitable for tool-making. That's an awful limitation for a society of makers of stone tools. To make matters worse, because the island consists of porous limestone, Henderson has no streams or reliable freshwater. Henderson's tallest trees are only about 40 feet high, not big enough to fashion into canoe hulls. Henderson did not have a lot of natural resources

Pitcairn is too small and steep to afford much land suitable for agriculture. Pitcairn's coastline also lacks a reef, and the surrounding sea bottom falls off steeply making fishing and searching for shellfish difficult These factors indicate that the total population of Pitcairn in Polynesian times could not have been much greater than a hundred people. Since it was such a small population it is easy for it to decrease during sickness seasons.


The Pitcairn, Henderson, and Mangarevan societies were based in islands in the the middle of the southern pacific ocean. Since they were in islands with limited resources and mild volcanic eruptions in the case of Pitcairn island, the islanders had to make do with what little resources nature had dealt them. For example, on Henderson island there was only coral and weak sedimentary rocks to make tools out of so they used there immense lumber supply to trade for stone tools. Despite their isolation on these islands, they were able to set up a trade system with the Mangarevan society using canoes made from lumber, clam shells, and fruit from the tropical trees on Pitcairn and Henderson island. Despite this, both islands overexerted their natural resources, causing mass deforestation, which eroded the soil that they grew their only crops, bread fruit. This meant nothing for them to trade, and without tools, lumber, and food, the islands' populations eventually fled or died.


The main driver of the intertwined economies of the Pitcairn/Henderson/Mangarevan islands was based around the former two trading with the latter, after the Mangarevans traveled several hundred miles using canoes. When they arrived at Pitcairn or Henderson island, they would trade their stone tools for clam shells, lumber, pearls, and bread fruit in return for stone tools, fish, and canoes. Mangarevan's were completely self-reliant for stone tools, fishing, and canoes, while the inhabitants of Pitcairn and Henderson island harvested bread fruit, clam shells, and pearls. When mass deforestation caused erosion for all the trees that inhabited the islands, causing no natural resources for the islands' inhabitants to survive on or trade for food.


The Mangareva had a few small islands that were to the northwest of it, Pitcairn island and Henderson island are neighbors to each other, and they have a few small islands next to them. The Mangarevans had a mostly peaceful relationship with their neighbors until the used up most of their natural resources and eroded the land around them, causing political struggle and them to be overthrown. Until then, the Pitcairn's' and Henderson's' relied on the Mangarevans' for canoes to travel and fishing and stone tools so they could trade them lumber, fish, and fruit. Without each other, they would run out of food, or wouldn't have the tools to collect enough resources to survive.


Works Cited

Diamond, Jared M. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Viking, 2005. Print.

Ford, Herbert. "Pitcairn's Earlier History: Before the Mutineers." Pre-Mutineer History. Pacific Union College, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2014.

"The Last People Alive Pitcairn and Henderson Islands." Portland State Univerasy. Portland State Universary, n.d. Web.

N/a. "History of Pitcairn Island." Pitcairn Islands Study Center. Pacific Union College, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2014.