The Navel of the World it is called. A speck on a map in the endless Pacific. Yet ancient people found it and erected some of the most iconic statues of the ancient world. Mysterious and solemn, the Moai stare, not out over the ocean, but inward. How the people of Easter Island – the Rapa Nui – built them and what happened to their culture has been debated for decades. The current issue of National Geographic details the current state of theorizing over this lost past.
In Jared Diamond’s Collapse, he championed the theory that Easter Island’s civilization collapsed largely due to their destruction of the island’s environment. Once forested, it is nearly empty of trees to this day. Other researchers, as chronicled in The Statues That Walked, lay out evidence that the environmental destruction wasn’t intentional, nor as widespread and not the final nail in their coffin.
As in the end of any culture, many factors were at work. It can be hard to pin the blame on any one as primary, as they often work in tandem.
Of course, the real question is will we learn from the past or suffer the same fate caused by the blindness of hubris?