The collapse of the Easter Island civilisation is commonly used as a cautionary tale about exploiting the environment, but a brand new study may help to rewrite this narrative.
The inhabitants of the remote location, off the coast of Chile, were believed to have been wiped out by bloody warfare, as they fought over dwindling resources.
Deforestation and agricultural mismanagement were blamed, by European visitors to the islands, to be the cause of a dietary shift from seafood to plants and animals.
New research, however, has flipped these findings on their head, suggesting the islanders were highly competent at managing their resources.
Some experts believe that it could have been contact with these colonialists, starting within the 18th century, that led to the islander’s downfall.
The collapse of the Easter Island (pictured) civilisation is usually used as a cautionary tale about exploiting the environment. But new research suggests the islanders were highly competent at managing their resources
The collapse of the Easter Island civilisation is often used as a cautionary tale about exploiting the environment.
But new research suggests the islanders were highly competent at managing their resources.
Experts used isotope analyse to check human, animal and plant remains taken across the 15th Century, toward the tip of the island’s occupation.
They show that around half of the protein in the islander’s diets a came from marine sources.
This is far higher than previous estimates.
The findings also point to concerted efforts to manipulate agricultural soils.
This suggests the native population on Rapa Nui had extensive knowledge of how to overcome poor soil fertility, improve environmental conditions, and create a sustainable food supply.
An international team of researchers analysed human, animal and plant remains from the island, often known as Rapa Nui, famed for its Moai statues.
Samples from 1,400 AD, toward the end of the island’s occupation, were examined to achieve a better understanding of how the diet of the islanders may have changed over time.
Experts used carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis, in addition to indicators of certain amino acids, to compare the presence of land bases versus marine food sources.
These results were then in comparison with the results of previous studies into dietary habits from the island’s ancient past, in addition to to modern baselines.
And what the research team, led by Catrine Jarman from the University of Bristol and Brian Popp from the University of Hawaii, found would appear to completely reverse previous assumptions.
Dr Carl Lipo, a Professor of Anthropology at Binghamton University in New York state who took part within the study, said: ‘The traditional story is that over time the people of Rapa Nui used up their resources and started to run out of food.
‘One of the resources that they supposedly used up was trees that were growing on the island.
‘Those trees provided canoes and, as a result of the lack of canoes, they could no longer fish, so that they started to rely increasingly on land food.
‘As they relied on land food, productivity went down due to soil erosion, which led to crop failures, painting the image of this type of catastrophe.
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