Collapse of Easter Island

By Katie Kushner & Courtney Coutts

Although the Rapa Nui peaked around 1550 A.D. with over 10,000 people, it soon after began to collapse due to the degradation of its natural resources. Besides deforestation, such factors like rat overpopulation, and social anarchy also contributed to the downfall of Easter Island.

Environmental Problems

Easter Island, otherwise known as Rapa Nui, is a small remote and isolated island in the Pacific. In 1200 A.D., people first began to settle here. These newcomers were mostly farmers who used the slash and burn method. They ended up over farming, burning down what had been lush forests, and clearing out the land. Soon after, in 1550 A.D. the population peaked to 10,000. This put a strain on the natural resources such as bananas, taros, and potatoes. What had been dense and resourceful forests where now burnt, cut, destroyed, and overused. This lack of trees and over cropping then contributed to erosion. There was nothing to keep the topsoil from eroding away. This created the dilemma of poor and infertile soil. This created a huge obstacle to grow food and crops. Not only where they running out of resources, but their closest neighbor, the Pitcairn's, were 1400 miles away, and no help. The lack of food and resources contributed to the collapse of Easter Island.

Overpopulation of Rats

The growing population of rats also contributed to the collapse and depletion of Easter Island and its resources. One theory on how the rats where transferred to Easter Island is that they came over in canoes by Polynesian colonists. These gnawing Polynesian rats ate what was left of the vegetation. The diet of these rats mainly relied on seeds. These seeds were important for growing trees and replenishing the forests. As these rats rapidly reproduced, the amount of trees and resources diminished. With the deforestation from humans, and now the lack of new trees growing, the amount of trees became a major problem. Without vegetation, there was a lack of food and habitat for humans and animals. Many animals began to die off just like the trees. Resources became more and more scarce and survival was questionable.

"Clearest example of a society that destroyed itself by overexploiting its own resources." - Jared Diamond

Social Anarchy

Although the collapse of the Easter Island society was mainly caused by deforestation, another key element to its collapse was the social issues of the people. In some ways, deforestation was the trigger that caused future issues for Easter Island. Deforestation led to loss of animal habitat which made them more vulnerable. The people of this island were one of the main predators to them and they quickly became endangered and extinct. The overkilling of every animal such as birds and fish, concluded in a lack of wildlife. In addition, people were overusing the land and trees. Soon enough, they ruined even more of their resources. Eventually, all of their resources were drained and the Rapa Nui resorted to cannibalism. This created a social anarchy that ultimately destroyed the culture of Easter Island. Due to the sudden cannibalism, the Rapa Nui started to spread many more diseases. This eventually killed off all of the humans, and nothing was left besides the ruined land. In addition, the competition for Moai sparked rivalries between the Rapa Nui. In order to move these large heads of stone which were used for rituals, and showed status, they needed trees. Trees were the only resource during this time that allowed the Rapa Nui to move these monoliths. With the lack of trees, these large head stones were more valuable and rare and the competition for these stones created chaos. In the end, the Rapa Nui people lived in a state of anarchy, un-organization and violence.

End of Easter Island

Political Competition

Not only did the competition for resources and Moai spur social problems, but it also created political problems. The Rapa Nui consisted of many clans. These clans had to fight over what was left of the overused land. In addition, Moai's were getting rarer and not only did the competition for resources and Moai spur social problems, but it also created political problems. The Rapa Nui consisted of many clans. These clans had to fight over what was left of the overused land. In addition, Moai's were getting rarer and the fight for those grew as well. This anarchy and fighting created a civil war between everyone of Easter Island. The crop failure, lack of fertile soil and trees as well as anarchy all around spurred the downfall of East Island. There was a lack of government and control which concluded in chaos. This anarchy and fighting created a civil war between everyone of Easter Island. The crop failure, lack of fertile soil and trees as well as anarchy all around spurred the downfall of East Island. There was a lack of government and control which concluded in chaos. The nonexistent organization of the government and a civil war created a downfall for the Rapa Nui.

Works Cited


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