The Collapse of Easter Island

By Claire Tierney and Maura Kelley


Although there were many contributors to the collapse of Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, the main factors had to have been the issues of deforestation, the rush to bring up their unique civilization, and the fear of European colonization. With that, the Southern Pacific province of Chile, only lasted for a few centuries.


Reasons for Collapse

1) Deforestation

Rapa Nui is a very small isolated island only about 64 square miles in size. It lies in the Pacific Ocean nearly 2,000 miles west of South America. It's sup tropical location make the climate mild and warm and volcanic eruptions from a large volcano in the center of the island. The Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen discovered this island on April, 5th 1722 which happened to be Easter. This is why the island is most commonly refered to as Easter Island. He discovered that it had nothing more then grassland and bushes. Later it was analyzed there were only about 47 species of plants on it. It was also observed they had little sources for firewood and only domesticated chickens. The population was estimated to be only around 2,000 people in all. All these observations and additional ideas have lead to the idea that Easter Island was once successful but the people used up all the resources. The settlement date is said to be around 400 A.D. by people of Polynesian origin. The people would have most likely farmed bananas, taro, sweet potatoes, sugarcane, and paper mulberry. Which means they had access to all these types of plants on the island. One large reason the may of caused the deforestation is the building of the Moai statues. It took twenty mean alone to chisel one and it would probably take a full year to complete. Then they would transport them from the quarries possibly on wooden sleds from the native palm trees that used to cover it. These palm trees could of been used for canoes, sleds, tools, and housing. Along with providing food sources such as nuts, sugar sap, honey and wine. There was once around 16 million palm's covering the island, and now they are now very rare on due to the overuse and clearing for crops/houses over the years. The deforestation also effected other plant life such as bushes, shrubs, herbs, ferns, daises, and grasses. In conclusion, the over use of Easter Island's resources over the years caused deforestation effecting plant, animal, and human life.

2) Rush for Civilizations Begin

It was unsure when exactly the settlement of people on Rapa Nui took place. After taking samples wood charcoal found on the oldest site on the island known as Anakena. The radiocarbon dating showed that the arrival of the Polynesians dates back to 1200 B.C. This date is relatively late compared to others in Polynesia since it is now discovered that New Zealand was colonized in 1200, 400 years later then originally assumed. Although in many civilizations the process of environmental destruction takes time to occur, it is evident that on Easter Island the deforestation began as soon as they arrived. For things such as canoes, Moai statues, food, and fires. The process of deforestation occurred mostly over a period of 400 to 500 years right after 1200. The very rushed settlement resulted in rapid population growth, at one point it was estimated to be about 7,000 people in total on the island. With this many people on the isolated island it would have been easy to destroy resources making survival difficult overtime. The deforestation wiped out animal species and the native's isolation caused them to suffer from diseases brought by rats off the ships of colonizers. The development/construction period peaked in the early stages from about 1200-1500. Showing that they rushed into civilization causing them to peak early then progressively fall to the point where they were unknown to other civilizations for centuries.

3) Fear of European Colonization

The island of Rapa Nui, more commonly known as Easter Island, is a very mysterious place. So many questions were posed when people really started to hear about the 887 distinctly monumental statues. The curiosity behind the island itself is extravagant, but the fact that the civilizations existent was so short may be the most questionable topics of them all. For years people have been trying to narrow one single reason down as to why Rapa Nui has one of the shortest life spans of a civilization, but what historians, scientist, anthropologists, and just everyday curious people were missing was that fact that there is no single reason. However, for the sake of the natives' worries, the fear of knowing that European colonization (the Europeans found Rapa Nui in 1722) was possible caused the Rapa Nuivian people to risk their lives and put their island in "self destruct" mode. By this they basically destroyed their "country" and never looked back. They attempted to destroy almost every last remaining sign of livable-land, and came as close to it as they could have come. Along with killing their home, they wiped out their population. They went instinct all because of fear…


Maura Kelley

Works Cited

Associated Press. "Bishop Museum Arachaeologist Reveals New Empirical Evidence Challenging Previous Theories of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) Collapse."

Associated Press. "Easter Island: The Mystery of Population Collapse." Science Learning. Science Learning Hub RSS, 24 Nov. 2008. Web. 03 Mar. 2014.

Diamond, Jared. "Chapter 2: Twilight at Easter." Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Viking, 2005. 79-119. Print.

Hunt, Terry L. "Rethinking the Fall of Easter Island." IConn. EBSCO Industries, 2014. Web. 3 Mar. 2014. <>.

Claire Tierney

Works Cited

Diamond, Jared. "Easter Island's End." Discover Magazine. Jared Diamond, 1 Aug. 1995. Web. 3 Mar. 2014.

Garnaut, Christine. "Easter Island." World History: Ancient and Medieval Eras. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Mar. 2014.

Lovgren, Stefan. "Easter Island Settled Later, Depleted Quicker Then Thought?" National Geographic News. N.p., 6 Mar. 2006. Web. 3 Mar. 2014.