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Rethinking the Fall of Easter Island

New evidence points to an alternative explanation for a civilization's collapse

Terry Hunt

Figure 8. New evidence casts doubt...Click to Enlarge Image

Easter Island has become a case study of human-induced environmental disaster, or “ecocide.” The popular narrative, most famously recounted in Jared Diamond’s book Collapse, depicts native inhabitants triggering the fall of their once-flourishing civilization by cutting down all of the island’s trees. But recent archaeological and paleoenvironmental research point to a very different story. The island may not have been settled until around 1200 A.D., centuries later than previously thought, and it may have been a large rat population, not the human inhabitants, that caused widespread deforestation. This evidence sheds new light on a story that has long fascinated outsiders.


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