The reasons behind the extinction of Rapa Nui, the Polynesians that once lived on Easter Island, have been highly debated among the researchers group. But no distinct finding has been made in this regard so far.
While some says they died due to the scarcity of natural resources on the island, other believes Rapa Nui died because of the new diseases that the Europeans brought on the island.
But a new research work offers an entirely different story. The research was explained by study co-author Dr. Thegn Ladefoged, an anthropology professor at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.
According to the researchers, it was the harsh environmental conditions on the Easter island that resulted in the shrinking of the population of Rapa Nui before the advent of Europeans in 1722.
Some of these environmental factors include variations in rainfall and soil quality degradation.
“The study’s findings were really quite surprising to me. In short, it does not support the suggestion that societal collapse occurred prior to European contact due to physical erosion and productivity decline, but it does indicate that use of less optimal environmental regions changed prior to European contact,” Dr. Ladefoged said.
During the study, the researchers involved 428 obsidian tools and flakes of obsidian rock that were found in various locations on Easter Island and carried close analysis on them, followed by dating the pieces of obsidian.
Dating helped the researchers in determining that when and how the Rapa Nui population used the natural resources and land at different spots of Easter Island. It was found that the use of land and other resources varied widely all over the island. This made the researchers believe that the Rapa Nui suffered to a higher extent from environmental constraints than an environment abuse.
“While we do not have direct population data, it is clear that people were reacting to regional environmental variation on the island before they were devastated by the introduction of European diseases and other historic processes,” Dr. Ladefoged said.
Concluding the findings of the study, Dr. Ladefoged said that the realization of a collapse in the environmental factors on Easter Island and the extinction of Rapa Nui may assist the scientists, researchers and anthropologists in better understanding the extinction or collapse of similar ancient civilizations.
The study was published on January 5 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.