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New findings challenge long-held theories of Easter Island’s population decline

Easter Island history news

New research from the Columbia Centre for Archaeology and the Columbia Centre for Climate casts doubt on the long-held belief that overexploitation of resources led to Easter Island’s societal collapse.

Contrary to the theory that the islanders’ deforestation caused an ecological disaster, the study reveals that the population was likely much smaller than previously thought and employed ‘sustainable agricultural practices’.

Dr. Dylan S. Davis, involved in the study, explains that the island’s inhabitants, who were found to number around 3,000 to 4,000 when Europeans arrived in the 18th century, likely used cooperative strategies and innovative rock gardening techniques to sustain their community.

The evidence suggests that environmental changes and the introduction of rats, rather than human activity alone, contributed to the decline of the island’s palm trees.

These findings indicate that the Rapa Nui people lived within their environmental limits, challenging the narrative of a dramatic population crash due to resource depletion.

Image credit: Stephanie Morcinek

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