The Lessons of Easter Island

(Rapa Nui, Osterinsel, Ile de Paques, Isla de Pascua)

Published on, by Clive Ponting, not dated.

(This article is a chapter excerpt from Clive Ponting’s ‘A Green History of the World, The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations’ and matches with the official scientific statements).

3 excerpts: Easter Island is one of the most remote, inhabited places on earth. Only some 150 square miles in area, it lies in the Pacific Ocean, 2,000 miles off the west coast of South America and 1,250 miles from the nearest inhabitable land of Pitcairn Island. At its peak the population was only about 7,000. Yet, despite its superficial insignificance, the history of Easter Island is a grim warning to the world …

… The Easter Islanders’ solution to the problem of transport provides the key to the subsequent fate of their whole society. Lacking any draught animals they had to rely on human power to drag the statues across the island using tree trunks as rollers. The population of the island grew steadily from the original small group in the fifth century to about 7,000 at its peak in 1550. Over time the number of clan groups would have increased and also the competition between them. By the sixteenth century hundreds of ahu had been constructed and with them over 600 of the huge stone statues. Then, when the society was at its peak, it suddenly collapsed leaving over half the statues only partially completed around Rano Raraku quarry. The cause of the collapse and the key to understanding the ‘mysteries’ of Easter Island was massive environmental degradation brought on by deforestation of the whole island …

… The Easter Islanders, aware that they were almost completely isolated from the rest of the world, must surely have realised that their very existence depended on the limited resources of a small island. After all it was small enough for them to walk round the entire island in a day or so and see for themselves what was happening to the forests. Yet they were unable to devise a system that allowed them to find the right balance with their environment. Instead vital resources were steadily consumed until finally none were left.

Indeed, at the very time when the limitations of the island must have become starkly apparent the competition between the clans for the available timber seems to have intensified as more and more statues were carved and moved across the island in an attempt to secure prestige and status. The fact that so many were left unfinished or stranded near the quarry suggests that no account was taken of how few trees were left on the island.

The fate of Easter Island has wider implications too. Like Easter Island the earth has only limited resources to support human society and all its demands. Like the islanders, the human population of the earth has no practical means of escape. How has the environment of the world shaped human history and how have people shaped and altered the world in which they live? Have other societies fallen into the same trap as the islanders? For the last two million years humans have succeeded in obtaining more food and extracting more resources on which to sustain increasing numbers of people and increasingly complex and technologically advanced societies. But have they been any more successful than the islanders in finding a way of life that does not fatally deplete the resources that are available to them and irreversibly damage their life support system? (full long text).



Google search for ‘map easter island‘;


Easter Island: on wikipedia; on Mysterious Places; on PBS; on PBS/lost empires; on sacred sites; with the Discovery Channel; on Island Heritage; on all about popular issues; on easter island music;

Ecological, ‘Drawdown,’ ‘Overshoot,’ ‘Crash,’ and ‘Die-off.’ – Intro to Human Ecology;

The Lessons Of Easter Island – from Clive Ponting’s – “A Green History of the World”;

Polynesian Archaeology;

The Easter Island Statue Project;

Annexation by Chile;

links for photos:



Rapa Nui;


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