New evidence: Easter Island civilisation was not destroyed by war

Centuries ago, Europeans first visited isolated Easter Island and found more than 800 enormous stone statues. Europeans assumed that the island was once home to an advanced civilization called the Rapa Nui, which destroyed itself through war. More recently, Jared Diamond’s bestselling book “Collapsed” stated that the Easter Island civilization destroyed itself by consuming all the natural resources of the island, even cutting down all the trees so they couldn’t build canoes to get off the island, and imploded in an orgy of violence and cannibalism.

But new research shows that the statues could have been built by the existing population of the island, that there’s no evidence the population of the island was ever much larger than it is now, and that there’s no evidence of a massive population collapse caused by ecological exhaustion or brutal war.

The research shows that “systematic violence” between groups is not inevitable, even “in cases where resources are scarce (such as Easter Island),” archaeologist Carl Lipo tells Annalee Newitz at Ars Technica. “But when we look more broadly at human history, we find generally that we are pretty good at living in social groups and getting along with one another,” Lipo says.

Citing the evolutionary biologist Peter Turchin, famous for developing a theory of history called “cliodynamics,” Lipo believes that the common thread in human history is cooperation rather than war. The fate of the Rapa Nui on Easter Island is often used to illustrate how humans destroy their communities with environmental destruction and warfare. But it might actually provide a good model for sustainable civilizations of the future.

1 thought on “New evidence: Easter Island civilisation was not destroyed by war

  1. coyoty

    It’s the same old arrogant archaeological bias that dismissed the Cahokian, Mayan, and Ethiopian civilizations, declaring the original people extinct or not competent enough to have built the “ruins” they were still living in.

    “Nice place. We’re moving in.”
    “But we still live here!”
    “No, it can’t be yours. You’re too stupid to have made it. You had to have found it after the originals died out or you killed them and took it.”
    “But I made the chair you’re sitting in myself!”
    “You? Hah! Pull the other one… It’s pre-Columbian. I’m an archaeologist, I know what I’m talking about.”
    “Hey Joe, look, we found a new sacrificial idol!”
    “Um… That’s the mascot for our jai alai team…”
    “You poor deluded primitives… You’re so lucky we came along to make your lives better!”


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