Easter Island Deprived

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This is an essay written to prove the cause of death of Easter Island's trees and people

Submitted: November 10, 2011

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Submitted: November 10, 2011



Easter Island is one of our world's top mysteries where the enigma is centered around the once thriving Polynesian people's dissapearance off on the island.  The island used to be carpeted in a dense forest of palm trees.  The ancient people thrived off this vegetation, and used them for everything.  The trees were their main resource, like coal is to us.  I believe that the Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, people cut down the trees one by one until the last seed couldn't grow from soil erosion.  They then disappeared making the land arid and the Easter Island people rotted into the ground with the palm trees.  People, archeologists/anthropologists everywhere are still trying to figure out the precise reason why the trees disappeared. 

The controversial issue has been how the Polynesian people on Easter Island actually died.  Whitney Dangerfield, on www.smithsonianmag.com, argues that humans could not kill all the trees by themselves as quickly as they did.  The reason behind her theory is the Polynesian rat.  It came along with the Polynesian people and found their food from the seeds of the palm trees.  Since rats reproduce so fast they ate most of the seeds along the island, resulting in ressesion in trees.  

My own view does not doubt her fact about rats eating seeds off the island because of evidence from the soil like rat bones.  The only fault I see with Ms. Dangerfield's work is the rats would have to eat a lot more than just seeds from the trees, which were receding on the island.  Another big problem I see is the reproduction rate of a Polynesian rat.  "Females have an average of 4 litters per year, with a range of 3 to 6 and an average of 4 young per litter... The life expectancy of wild rats is less than 1 year" (icwdm.org).  

This means that the rats population rate, on average, triples every year.  That's without looking at limiting factors and the rats carrying capacity on the island.  Lets say four Polynesian rats made it to the island.  After ten years the rats population would have climbed to 236,192 rats.  In the the next year the population would have shot up to 708,592 rats.  That's a sea-full of rats that wouldn't stop growing and eating all the seeds on the island.  This would end the trees multiplication in matter of years.  The trees were on the island for about 400 years according to soil research.  With these facts I do not believe the rats were the main reason for the trees recession.

My reason for why the trees disappeared is different but practical.  "The total number of Moai on Easter Island: 887.  The average weight statistically for a Moai: 13.78 tons" (www.pbs.org).  If these statues weighed so much, how did the people get them from Rano Raraku quarry in the center of the island where they were made to their designated location around the island?  The only resource they had were the palm trees.  "Depending upon the size of the statues, it has been estimated that between 50 and 150 people were needed to drag them across the countryside on sleds and rollers made from the palm trees"  (www.sacredsites.com).  This behavior of cutting down trees for transportation is the main reason that caused the trees to disappear on the island.  

If the native Rapa Nui people used a lot of trees to transport their statues then they, unknowingly, were cutting down their own life source.  The trees on the island were said to be a type of palm tree. 


The Paschalhococos disperta and the Saphora toromiro 

were once the island's most bountiful trees and sediment samples

dating from 200 AD indicate an abundance of pollen from both 

trees in the island biota at that time.  The Paschalhococos disperta

bear a striking resemblance to the still-surviving Judaea chilensis,

the Chilean wine palm, which grows up to eighty feet tall and six

feet in diameter. Thus the Paschalhococos disperta palm tree

trunks are the most probable candidates for the solution to the

transportation of the enormous moai from their carving location

at the Rano Raraku volcano to the many locations where they

were erected around the island. These trees were also important

to the islanders for fuel and for the construction of houses and

  ocean-fishing canoes  (www.sacred sites.com).


The trees were perfect for the natives living environment, but the trees were not unlimited.  

The peoples' population started to grow.  The need for trees to be cut down to house people and for their daily lives.  These people also had no outside influence, like trade, for other supplies to build anything.   They had to function on their own completely, by cutting down more and more trees.  The more trees they cut down the more open land, full of rich volcanoe soil was opened up.  

It took years for secondary succession to create the perfect soil, and when the land was cleared the soil was vulnerable to rain that could wash out all the nutrients in the soil.  Over hundreds of years the trees were cut down and grew back, but with every tree gone the more soil was washed away into the ocean.  The lands rich soil turned stale into dirt.  The trees could not find enough nutrients needed for life and the land became bare.  Soil erosion, the cutting down of trees, and Polynesian rats were the cause of the Rapanui's slow death.  

"Eventually the giant palms that the Rapanui depended on dwindled... The treeless terrain eroded nutrient-rich soil, and, with little wood to use for daily activities, the people turned to grass"  (www.smithsonianmag.com).  All the trees were rotted into the ground.   All life went with the fallen trees.  No more trees meant no more people.  Easter Island went silent, all that was left is the ruins.













"Places of Peace and Power - Easter Island." Places of Peace and Power - Sacred Sites: Places of Peace and Power. Benny Peiser. Web. 03 Nov. 2011. <http://www.sacredsites.com/americas/chile/easter_island.html>.



Dangerfield, Whitney. "The Mystery of Easter Island | People & Places | Smithsonian Magazine." History, Travel, Arts, Science, People, Places | Smithsonian Magazine. National Geographic. Web. 03 Nov. 2011. <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/The_Mystery_of_Easter_Island.html>.


"NOVA Online | Secrets of Easter Island | Stone Giants." PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. PBS Online, Nov. 2000. Web. 04 Nov. 2011. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/easter/civilization/giants.html>.


Tobin, Mark E. "Polynesian Rat, Rattus Exulans, Control and Management." Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management for Animal Damage Control. Web. 04 Nov. 2011. <http://icwdm.org/handbook/rodents/PolynesianRats.asp>.


Hunt, Terry L., and Carl P. Lipo. The Statues That Walked: Unraveling the Mystery of Easter Island. New York: Free, 2011. Print.


© Copyright 2018 Anthony Snow. All rights reserved.

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