“The miracle of Easter Island lies in this audacity
that drove the inhabitants of a small island, devoid of
resources, to erect against the horizon of the Pacific Ocean,
monuments worthy of a great people.”
This fact, seen by Alfred
Métraux to be a miracle, was for a long time regarded as one of
the great enigmas of Easter Island. Indeed, the first navigators
and explorers discovered an island almost completely devoid of
forest cover, yet whose littoral was decorated with monumental
How had the islanders
dwelling here proceeded to fashion and raise such impressive monuments
when they had no wood ? This resource would have been essential for the
manufacture of rope, winches and structures crucial to the transport and
the erection of their large statues, the so-called Moai.
Recent research revealing the presence of fossilized
pollen in the island’s soil now clearly shows that the land had been
thickly forested from a very ancient era on until shortly before the
arrival of the first visitors. So the elements necessary for erection of
the great statues had indeed been available at the time they were
mystery being solved, a new mystery became manifest, since it was now
necessary to understand the causes of the disappearance of the
island’s forest itself.
While satisfactory explanations have been found to
several of the great enigmas concerning Easter Island, the
disappearance of the island’s forest cover has given rise to a
polemic wherein two completely opposing theses clash.
Indeed, according to a thesis that is often evoked,
Easter Island is the prototypical example illustrating the serious
consequences of the overexploitation of natural resources by man.
According to this thesis, the deforestation of the island, noted by
the first explorers, was due to the negligence of the Pascuenses
themselves. This latter group, applying no forethought, were said to
have cut down all the trees essential to their survival for domestic
purposes or even more foolishly, for constructing, transporting and
setting up their famous Moai. The disappearance of the trees
thus ineluctably led to the decline of their civilization and the
near disappearance of the Pascuenses.
to another thesis, also often evoked, the deforestation of the
island was instead due to a climatic incident, that is to say a
phase of intense cooling or a long period of dryness. Indeed,
although the vegetation of the island had in the beginning
appreciably been the same one as that which partly covers the other
islands of Polynesia, Easter Island, being located much more to the
south, is periodically subject to very cold southern winds and does
not enjoy the benefits of substantial rainfall. Thus, the vegetation,
very abundant in the past, was however undoubtedly at many times
very close to its thresold of survival.
the conclusion of new scientific discoveries and ancient facts
concerning Easter Island and Polynesia, the author brings new light
to bear on this fascinating mystery.