While this post: Course correction for Easter Island discussed potential measures to avoid the collapse of the Rapa Nui culture due to contact with the West, I'm planning to open the scope up now to discuss a competing theory that the collapse was mostly attributed to over-planting/over-hunting. I've learned much from comments and answers to the first post but course correcting for ecocide will entail an entirely different solution space.

If, as Diamond's hypothesis suggests, the Rapa Nui's resource consumption verged on "ecocide" then we will need to introduce some form of stabilizers to ensure that a certain threshold of trees/fauna are left unmolested. The trick is arriving at a scientific (guess)estimate of what that might be. Still, I'd like to keep this question fairly high-level and not split hairs over the mind-bending mechanics of lumber felled per capita and so forth. Technically, the data is out there to see how austere they'd have to be, but I'd just as soon abstract away the effort-prohibitive dimensions of the question where it makes sense to do so; don't need to bog answerers down with that too much.

Instead of austerity, another possible avenue for this question could be through some kind of technological progress. This way they could solve their collapse through productivity gains. Perhaps this time the oracle bones / vision of the Rapa Nui mystic result in a revelation of a new type of land management technique.


What type of land management technique that is consistent with Rapa Nui tool-making proficiency could plausibly lift the productivity of the culture without outstripping the carrying capacity of the island? Ideally, please include heuristics for max carrying capacity (when they know when to start de-risking / dialing back). Bear in mind, these would only be naked-eye heuristics as there are no satellite imagery or soil chemistry kits available to this culture.

Quality metrics:

  • Rapa Nui population stable
  • Forest stable in long run
  • Fauna diversity / population stable

Note: I'd also allow for a combination of austerity and productivity improvements.

  • $\begingroup$ Essentially, can assume the culture is aware of the fact there is such a thing as ecocide but their means of detecting the exact phase of the cycle may be crude. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 8, 2022 at 4:39
  • $\begingroup$ Theories of the collapse of the Rapa Nui culture seem to be a bit overblown. First contact spoke of a healthy society that was working out just fine; later contact some years later showed collapse. The mere existence of advanced outsiders was effectively an outside context problem; that's a societal issue rather than an ecological one. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 8:49

1 Answer 1


Most other Polynesians managed their island resources with no huge issues. Population was kept under control by infanticide and warfare, or both. A few didn't and went the way of Easter Island.

Deforestation on it's own wasn't the actual problem. People can't eat trees, they ate the crops they planted. With a few exceptions tress are mostly useless except for tools and weapons.

Warfare is what wiped out most of the population, not hunger. And Polynesian populations bounce back quickly, even today families with 10 children are not uncommon, one of our govt ministers has 17 children with his wife.

A migration from another Polynesian Island instead of Europeans and Chileans would have solved most of their problems I would think.

My personal idea of what happened to Easter Island is a prolonged drought caused conflict over resources and the warfare got out of hand. Which more than likely happened more than once, but Europeans came at a time when the population was at a low point. If they'd come a hundred years later it would have looked totally different.

Almost as likely is that an undocumented outside contact gave them a disease which wiped out most of them, plenty of that happened in the Pacific as well.


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