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A chilling story of resource exploitation and destruction is beginning to come to light on Easter Island. The first westerners to discover the island wondered how any one could have survived on such a desolate, treeless place. Indeed, this was a mystery until recent core samples taken from the crater lakes showed that the island was heavily forested with a giant extinct palm while the Easter Island culture was active.

Apparently, the islanders were greeted with a lush tropical paradise when they first discovered it. It must have seemed inexhaustible. The trees were cut for lumber for housing, wood for fires, and eventually for the rollers and lever-like devices used to move and erect the Moai.


As the deforestation continued the Moai building competition turned into an obsession. The quarry was producing Moai at sizes that probably could never have been moved very far ( one unfinished Moai in the quarry is 70 feet tall!) And still the trees came down. With the loss of the forests, the land began to erode. The small amount of topsoil quickly washed into the sea. The crops began to fail and the clans turned on one another in a battle for the scarce resources. The symbols of the islanders' power and success, the Moai, were toppled. 
Eyes were smashed out of the moai and often rocks were placed where the statues neck would fall so it would decapitate the Moai. The violence grew worse and worse. It was said that the victors would eat their dead enemies to gain strength. Bones found on the island show evidence of this cannibalism. With the scare food supplies it may have been a question of hunger as well as being ceremonial. A spooky cave of a (right) at the southwest corner of the island, Ana Kai Tangata, is translated to "cave where men are eaten." Inside are pictographs painted in ochre and white of ghost like birds flying upwards. With no wood left to build boats, all the Rapa Nui people could do was look enviously at the birds that sail effortless through the sky. The Rapa Nui culture and community which had developed over the past 300 years, collapsed.

Their island was in shambles, and their villages and crops destroyed. There was no wood left on the island to build escape boats. The few survivors of the conflict, perhaps numbering as low as 750, began to pick up the pieces of their culture. One thing they left behind, however, were the Moai....


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