Easter Island (03:39)
Rapa Nui is one of the most isolated inhabited islands in the world. DNA evidence shows the first settlers on the island were Polynesians who settled throughout the Pacific Ocean. They reached the island between 1,000 and 500 BCE.
Easter Island Civilization (03:42)
An estimated 20,000 people lived on Easter Island during the civilization's peak. They built large statues called moai throughout the island. Deforestation of the palm forest may have led to the island's eventual abandonment.
People built the giant statues to honor the ancestors; hundreds litter the island. Most were carved out of soft rock at Rana Raraku, a quarry inside one of the extinct volcanoes, using dense stone tools.
Deforestation Theories (04:12)
With the idea that people used trees to move moai debunked, scientists began looking for other reasons. Experts now believe the people cleared forests to make farmland. The elimination of seabirds and addition of rats could also have played a role.
Easter Island Resources (04:31)
People used small caves and sunken gardens to protect crops from ocean spray. With limited resources, conflicts arose among the clans. With no trees to make canoes, they was no way to leave the island.
Easter Island Caves (03:59)
Researchers have found signs of human life in the island's caves. Many believe combat between the clans sent some islanders underground. An increase in weapons building aligned with a decrease in moai building.
Easter Island Fishing (02:49)
A team dives the water around Easter Island to see if the residents could have sustained themselves with fishing. There are no reefs around the islands, limiting ocean life to deep-sea animals. Fishing stopped when the people stopped building canoes.
Easter Island Birds (03:29)
The island initially had a large population of sea and land birds. Most are now extinct, and experts debate the cause. One theory is that the people hunted the birds to extinction as famine spread.
Easter Island Fresh Water (02:19)
Deforestation dried up ground water, but people could find fresh water in some caves. The clans fought over the only sources of fresh water.
Birdman Event (03:12)
As the situation grew worse, champions from each clan competed in a yearly birdman event for control of Easter Island. It led to the division of resources without bloodshed and a more democratic approach to decision making.
Dutch Invaders (06:36)
A few decades after the first birdman event, a ship landed on Easter Island. The Dutch introduced disease and slavery that nearly wiped out the population. Environmental changes threaten to erode the moai.
Credits: Easter Island Unsolved (00:02)
Credits: Easter Island Unsolved
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