Easter Island (Rapa Nui) has become widely known as a case of “ecocide,” where the ancient Polynesians recklessly destroyed their environment and, as a consequence, suffered collapse. In recent publications, both popular and academic, scholars have promoted this perspective, drawing upon archaeological evidence and offering Rapa Nui as a parable for our current global crisis. In this paper we address recent claims and oudine emerging archaeological and paleoenvironmental evidence. We consider chronology, causes and consequences of deforestation, agricultural strategies, statue transport, and the evidence for ancient population size and its demise. Although deforestation and ecological catastrophe certainly unfolded over the course of the island's prehistory, the ensuing demographic and cultural collapse followed European contact and resulted from the devastating effects of disease and slave trading. Deforestation and contact-induced demographic collapse were separated in time and causation. Finally, we offer alternative perspectives emerging from a variety of recent research.
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Vol. 63 • No. 4