Easter Island again...

Following on from my remarks about Jared Diamond in an earlier post
But on this point in reference to Easter Island there's a very  important discussion on the ABC's Science Show last week: Rewriting the Easter Island story:
Milton Takei adds some more background.

Rapanui (Easter Island)

by Milton Takei
My parents used to tell me that they did certain things because "we are Japanese." Yet I could clearly see that they had discarded almost all of the Japanese tradition in favor of the culture of Hawai'i and the United States. I wonder if an anthropologist would have believed my parents.

People need to pay more attention to the question of how people know what they know. To my mind, history is full of lies, and archeology is a large part speculation. The farther back in time, the less reliable is our knowledge. Yet some people have raised speculation about pre-historical events to the status of Truth (with a capital "T") and made it part of an ideology.

The case of Rapanui (Easter Island) is a good example. Clive Ponting, on p. 5 of _Green History of the World_ (1991), asserts that the use of wood in transporting statues was the most important reason for deforestation on Rapanui, and that a lack of wood caused the collapse of the statue-carving system. On the other hand, Paul Bahn and John Flenley, on p. 173 of _Easter Island, Earth Island_ (1992), assigns more significance to the removal of trees for canoe building.

Furthermore, Bahn and Flenley think that rodents which arrived with the Polynesians likely prevented the regeneration of Rapanui's trees (see pp. 172-173). People can preserve forests by not using wood faster than trees can re-grow, an option that was impossible on Rapanui, because the Polynesians needed canoes for fishing, and the rodents ate the kernels of the nuts from which the trees grew. Grant McCall, in _Rapanui: Tradition and Survival on Easter Island_ (1994) says on pp. 37-38 that the Polynesians stopped carving statues because population growth, followed by change in weather patterns, caused food shortages and warfare. McCall thus presents an alternative interpretation which does not imply that the Natives were too stupid to realize that they were running out of wood.

Dave Riley: Louis Proyect has some great comments on Diamond's work generally that warrants consideration.

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