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  • Easter Island is a Chilean island

  • located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean.

  • If you know only one thing about Easter Island,

  • it's that it has those giant stone heads all over the place.

  • But you might not know that building those stone heads

  • may have inadvertently destroyed the culture of the people who

  • created them--

  • maybe.

  • Today, we're going to take a look

  • at how the civilization on Easter Island collapsed.

  • But before we get started, be sure to subscribe to the Weird

  • History channel, and let us know in the comments

  • below what other lost cultures you would like to hear about.

  • OK, prepare to get heady about Easter Island.

  • When the Polynesians first discovered Easter Island,

  • the land was nothing short of a tropical paradise.

  • Covered by a vast palm forest, the tiny island

  • was inhabited by roughly 30 different species of birds.

  • While most of the soil was too low in nutrients

  • to be useful for agriculture, the island's coastal plains

  • made it possible to grow crops such as yams, taros,

  • and sweet potatoes.

  • Over time, these people, known as the Rapa Nui,

  • would grow into a complex society.

  • And for reasons that remain unknown to this very day,

  • that complex society would embark

  • on one of the most unique building projects

  • in the history of the world--

  • the construction of the large stone sculptures known as moai.

  • The first Europeans visited the island

  • under the direction of a Dutch explorer named Jacob Roggeveen.

  • It was then that the name Easter Island was adopted, as he first

  • happened upon the mysterious island on Easter Sunday,

  • April 5, 1722.

  • Roggeveen reported seeing about 2,000 to 3,000 inhabitants

  • at the time of his visit.

  • But by the mid-19th century, the population of the Island

  • had nearly gone extinct.

  • It was sometime around 1200 CE that a small group

  • of Polynesian farmers first settled

  • on a tiny 63 square mile island in the southeastern Pacific

  • Ocean.

  • At that point, the island is believed

  • to have been covered with roughly 16 million trees.

  • According to one theory, these farmers

  • practiced slash-and-burn agriculture.

  • And as their population grew, they

  • had to burn down more and more trees in the palm forest

  • to make room for crops.

  • Before too long, there were too many inhabitants and too few

  • trees.

  • This theory suggests a man-made ecological disaster

  • that some believe is one of the clearest known examples

  • of a society unintentionally destroying itself

  • by over-exploiting its natural resources.

  • Standing at an average height of 13 feet tall

  • and weighing an average of 14 tons

  • apiece, moving the moai around the island was no easy feat.

  • To accomplish the task, the islanders reportedly

  • used wood from the palm forest to clear the paths

  • that they needed.

  • One theory states that after clearing the land for crops,

  • they used the leftover logs to both move the huge stone

  • sculptures and build their deep sea fishing canoes.

  • Whether this excessive use of resources

  • really led to their starvation is still an open question.

  • However, when Captain James Cook visited the island in 1774,

  • he and his crew noted that the Rapa Nui were

  • living in very poor conditions.

  • According to Cook, the canoes were worn ragged and pieced

  • together haphazardly.

  • This would suggest they could no longer

  • build new canoes, which supports the deforestation theory.

  • While the slash-and-burn agriculture theory

  • has many supporters, not everyone

  • agrees that it holds up to scrutiny.

  • In fact, two anthropologists, Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo

  • from the University of Hawaii, have a completely different

  • theory about the collapse of the Easter Island civilization.

  • In their book, The Statues That Walked,

  • they argue that despite the popularity of the agriculture

  • theory, fossil hunters and paleobotanist

  • haven't found any concrete evidence

  • of slash-and-burn farming actually being

  • used on Easter Island.

  • While the anthropologists do acknowledge

  • that the trees across the island seem

  • to have died in large numbers, they

  • believe the cause was actually an infestation of rats.

  • The rodents likely arrived on the island

  • by stowing away with the Polynesians.

  • Once there, they multiplied voraciously

  • and decimated the environment, including the trees.

  • Regardless of what the cause may have been,

  • the effect of the rapid loss of trees on the island was clear,

  • and it wasn't good.

  • The topsoil began to slowly wash away each time it rained.

  • And as the land eroded, the Rapa Nui

  • found themselves struggling to find

  • the space they needed to grow enough crops to feed everyone.

  • Compounding the problem was that they were also quickly

  • running out of the wood that they

  • needed to build their canoes.

  • This prevented them from taking drastic action,

  • like relocating to another island when things got worse.

  • While it's unclear if they blame the moai for their problems,

  • the islanders are known to have vandalized them

  • by poking out their eyes, toppling them over, and even

  • decapitating them.

  • For a long time, it was believed that Easter Island had once

  • been inhabited by a large civilization.

  • According to this theory, the combined effects

  • of extreme deforestation, a rapidly

  • expanding population, warfare, and famine eventually

  • caused that civilization to collapse.

  • By the time the Europeans arrived,

  • the population of the island had already

  • dwindled significantly to the few thousand

  • reported by Roggeveen.

  • As a result of this assumption, it

  • was also believed that the inhabitants of Easter Island

  • fought with one another over scarce resources,

  • and eventually even resorted to cannibalism to survive.

  • However, according to research published

  • by the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,

  • this did not actually contribute to the civilization's downfall.

  • In February 2020, the Journal of Archaeological Science

  • published a study that proposed the Rapa Nui people were still

  • actively building new moai figures

  • and maintaining existing ones up until at least 1750.

  • If true, this would have the Rapa Nui long

  • outliving any previously held beliefs

  • about when their civilization was eradicated.

  • In fact, the whole thing might be

  • a case of circular reasoning.

  • The statues weren't found in ruins until 1770.

  • And because of the pre-existing mystery

  • surrounding their supposed collapse,

  • the degree to which the Rapa Nui people's cultural heritage

  • was passed on may have been overlooked, or even ignored.

  • When foreigners first began visiting the Rapa Nui,

  • the islanders were excited to learn about the strangers.

  • They thought the travelers were strange,

  • but they also appreciated the new source

  • of clothing and goods from across the ocean.

  • Unfortunately, many of those visitors

  • didn't come with the best of intentions.

  • Some even traveled to the island with the intent

  • of making the Rapa Nui their slaves.

  • These Peruvian raids first started in the 1960s,

  • with Easter Island being a prime target due to its location.

  • An estimated 2,000 Rapa Nui were captured during this period.

  • And those who managed to survive the trip to Peru

  • faced incredible hardships.

  • They battled disease and were dangerously overworked.

  • As a result, nearly 90% died within a few years.

  • When the Europeans first arrived on Easter Island,

  • they brought more than clothing and goods with them.

  • They also brought various diseases,

  • including syphilis and smallpox.

  • In fact, some scientists believe that the islanders were

  • actually able to survive when the trees disappeared,

  • but that the population suffered most dramatically

  • when the Dutch and English came to Rapa Nui.

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

  • on average, 3 out of every 10 people who got smallpox died.

  • Syphilis, while it's treatable today,

  • people frequently died from it in the 18th century.

  • When British Explorer Captain James Cook

  • arrived on Easter Island in 1774,

  • he quickly spotted the Rapa Nui carrying lancets and spears

  • with sharp pointed pieces of black glassy lava attached

  • to the ends.

  • At the time, it was assumed that the triangular

  • tips, made from obsidian and known as mata'a,

  • were used for warfare.

  • However, when researchers analyzed the artifacts thought

  • to be spear points, they determined that they

  • were actually used as tools.

  • Carl Lipo, a professor of anthropology at Binghamton

  • University, believes that when you

  • look at the shape of the so-called spear tips,

  • they don't actually look like weapons at all,

  • and probably wouldn't be very reliable for killing

  • in combat situations.

  • He also notes that the mata'a are found all across the island

  • since they were used for all sorts of tasks,

  • such as tattooing or plant processing.

  • When food starts running out, people get desperate,

  • and they'll try just about anything.

  • Often, this desperation can lead to war and conflict.

  • But sometimes, people can surprise you.

  • When the Rapa Nui started running out of food,

  • different factions started to form on the island.

  • One group became known as the Birdman cult,

  • and they turned to a new god for help--

  • Make-make.

  • Through their efforts, the cult helped

  • to rebuild the culture and population of Rapa Nui

  • with crops such as sweet potatoes,

  • again, beginning to flourish.

  • Not only do scientists not agree on what

  • caused the collapse of the Rapa Nui civilization,

  • not everyone even agrees that there was really

  • a collapse in the first place.

  • According to research conducted by Christopher M. Stevenson

  • of Virginia Commonwealth University,

  • saying that the Rapa Nui civilization collapsed

  • may be both overstated and more than a little misleading.

  • According to Stevenson, after examining

  • whether the prehistoric population of Rapa Nui

  • experienced a significant demographic collapse prior

  • to European contact, he determined

  • that while food production declined,

  • it wasn't disastrous for people.

  • In fact, Stevenson believes that the population of the island

  • didn't decline due to starvation at all.

  • Rather, he believes the disruption was ultimately

  • the result of changing weather patterns.

  • Another thing that modern researchers

  • have been questioning is how big the Rapa Nui population really

  • was to begin with.

  • Archaeologist Carl Lipo and his colleagues

  • who studied Easter Island for years

  • don't believe that the 3,000 people that Captain Roggeveen

  • met in 1722 were actually the remaining members

  • of a once great civilization.

  • According to Lipo, when Easter Island

  • was discovered by Europeans, it was inconceivable

  • that such a small group of people

  • could create and move the enormous moai statues.

  • But today, Lipo and other researchers

  • believe it was entirely within the capabilities of a smaller

  • sized population.

  • Research shows that ancient people did, in fact, possess

  • the special engineering knowledge and techniques that

  • were necessary to construct and relocate

  • the moai without large numbers of people.

  • So what do you think?

  • What caused the island's demise?

  • Let us know in the comments below.

  • And while you're at it, check out some of these other videos

  • from our Weird History.

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Easter Island is a Chilean island

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How the Civilization On Easter Island Collapsed

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/19
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