Catrine Jarman in The Conversation:
Few places on earth are as well known for their so-called mysteries as Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui. For a tiny island of 64 square miles, with its nearest neighbours some 1,300 miles away, it has seen more than its fair share of controversy.
For a long while it wasn’t clear whether the island’s native population originated in Polynesia or South America. And how can we explain its apparent paradox: the design, construction and transport of giant “moai” stone statues, a remarkable cultural achievement yet one carried out on a virtually barren island, which seemingly lacked both the resources and people to carry out such a feat?
Anthropologists have long wondered whether these seemingly simple inhabitants really had the capacity for such cultural complexity. Or was a more advanced population, perhaps from the Americas, actually responsible – one that subsequently wiped out all the natural resources the island once had?
Recently, Rapa Nui has become the ultimate parable for humankind’s selfishness; a moral tale of the dangers of environmental destruction. In the “ecocide” hypothesis popularised by the geographer Jared Diamond, Rapa Nui is used as a demonstration of how society is doomed to collapse if we do not sit up and take note. But more than 60 years of archaeological research actually paints a very different picture – and now new genetic data sheds further light on the island’s fate. It is time to demystify Rapa Nui.