Unraveling the mystery of Easter Island

Easter Island is famous for its majestic stone-head statues spread out along its coastline and its lingering aura of mystery that clings to the civilization that built them.

Located in the Pacific Ocean 2,000 miles off the coast of Chile, this remote island was once populated by a Polynesian people, the Rapa Nui, around 1200 A.D. Once settled, the Rapa Nui built a thriving civilization based on agriculture and stonework. However, when European explorers reached the island in 1722, they discovered the island desolated.

There have been many theories as to what happened to these Polynesians, the most accepted one being that when the Rapa Nui arrived, Easter Island was filled with trees. Between cutting down the trees for fires and using them for slash and burn agriculture, the plants were depleted and the island’s resources were severely compromised, thus leading to the end of the Rapa Nui.

However, a new study published by the National Academy of Sciences on Jan. 5 challenges previous assumptions. The study suggests that the decline of the Rapa Nui was not due to over-logging and misuse of the environment, but rather pre-existing environmental conditions such as inconsistent rainfall and poor soil quality. Using dating tools made of obsidian, researchers determined that rather than wastefully using up all the trees on Easter Island, the Rapa Nui moved around the island in response to other natural disasters.

The story of Easter Island is frequently used in the classroom, mainly in history and science classes. Easter Island has long been used as a warning of what could happen to the Earth if humanity wastes the planet’s non-renewable resources.

“This new study sheds light on the importance of new technology in challenging previously held assumptions while maintaining objectivity with weighted issues such as this,” Senior Joshua Kim said.