Collapse of Easter Island

Alex Rosenberg and Jackson Appelt

Thesis

The Rapanui civilization of Easter Island suddenly declined and collapsed due to rapid deforestation, a loss of food, and the breakouts of civil war between the tribes.
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Deforestation

Deforestation helped lead to the collapse of the Rapanui civilization on Easter Island. The lack of timber affected how they died out, because wood was one of the major resources they depended on. They used wood to build the canoes with they fished with, build the houses they lived in, and make the tools they used in everyday life. They first started to clearcut the island but later tried to remedy this by planting more seeds, but unfortunately the polynesian rats that had lived in their boats when they first arrived there ate all the seeds they tried to plant. Due to the their dependence on timber the Rapanui civilization fell.

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Starvation and Loss of Food

As the forests were gradually destroyed, so were the populations of the species of many creatures around the island. Archaeological evidence shows a rapid vanishing of many dolphin and seabird bones on the island around the year 1500. Dolphins had been one of the main food sources of the Rapanui, with the tribes using canoes to fish for the creatures and other shellfish. Many of these populations declined as well probably as a result of over-hunting. Discovered garbage heaps show that six species of birds had gone extinct, mostly due to a combination of hunting, the loss of their forest habitat, and the theft of their eggs by the Polynesian rat, which was one of the only species that flourished during this time. The loss of the forest habitats drove the Rapanui chiefs to intensify food production. However, this was extremely difficult due to the agriculture systems being built on infertile soil deposits with little supply of water. The decline of forest certainly also made agriculture worse because it lowered localized rainfall. Gradually, the food supply of the Rapanui became more and more scarce, and they were forced to overhunt causing the rapid decline of other animal populations. Eventually, this strategy helped contribute to the downfall of their long-lasting civilization.
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Civil War

Tribal wars were one of the major factors that lead to the collapse of the Rapanui civilization on Easter Island. With no food and resources, their was a constant struggle to survive. With this came war, small groups banding together to fight for resources. As groups gained dominance and took over others, they didn’t realize that as they got more resources they needed more to feed their people. As more tribes fought, and resources were used, people started to die out. Since war and its effects destroyed both people and resources, the Easter Island civilization eventually fell.


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Sources

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


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This site is credible because of its author, Diego Garcia-Montufar.



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