[extropy-chat] Easter Island not a human-created disaster?

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Mon Jan 8 19:48:52 UTC 2007

On Mon, Jan 08, 2007 at 05:38:28PM +0000, BillK wrote:

> I am not an archaeologist.

Archaeology is probably one of the sciences most open to the layman.
(And in a pinch, you can always hit the bibliography, descending
to primary literature, if it needs to be).

> But Terry Hunt, who wrote the report I linked to, certainly is.
> Bio:
> Terry L. Hunt is a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the
> University of Hawaii at Manoa, where he has taught since 1988. He
> earned his master's degree in anthropology from the University of
> Auckland in New Zealand and his Ph.D. in anthropology from the
> University of Washington. Hunt has been conducting archaeological
> field research in the Pacific Islands for nearly 30 years, and he is
> currently director of the University of Hawaii Rapa Nui Archaeological
> Field School.

I'm rather immune to ipse dixits.
> His report claims that the settlers of Easter Island deliberately
> brought chickens and the Polynesian rat with them as a food source.
> The Polynesian rat (which his report blames for much of the
> deforestation on Easter Island and other pacific islands) is now
> extinct on Easter Island in the face of competition from rat species
> introduced by Europeans.

You're not actually disagreeing with Diamond. He doesn't bin
natives and Europeans differently. His main harp chords on ability
of human socities to sustainably manage their environments, or
the failure thereof. Introducing potentially invasive species
willy-nilly to a specific ecology that happens to be fragile is
a cardinal mistake, which you frequently pay by a population crash.
> >
> > ### Yes, societal collapse due to natural, extrinsic causes is very uncommon.
> >
> Jared Diamond made Easter Island the main plank in his book about
> collapsing societies. So if it is removed, then his case is certainly
> much weaker.

You're not giving Diamond justice. He wrote several books, most
notably "The Third Chimpanzee", "Guns, Germs and Steel" and
"Collapse". The first book about how we became human, and contains
a discussion in how we're similiar and how we're different from
being just a third subspecies of Pan. The second book tries to
explain how Europeans conquered the rest of the world instead of the other
way round (very roughly, I've only dipped in the book yet due to lack of time).
"Collapse" (which is subtitled "How socities choose to fail or *succeed*"
(emphasis mine)). It covers contemporary Montana, Easter Island,
Pitcairn and Henderson Islands, Anasazis, Mayas, Vikings, Norse
Greenland, New Guinea, Japan, Rwanda, The Dominican Republic
and Haiti, China, Australia. Quite a lot for a book of only 560 pages.

So, no, the Easter Island is not his "main plank", and he's
not claiming what you say he does.
> The effect of climate changes (drought, floods, plagues, disease,
> etc.) on early human societies is a hidden history that is only now

Which happens to be one of the main points of Collapse, incidentally.

> gradually being revealed. Ancient history recorded wars, revolutions,
> invasions, as written by the victors, recording their achievements.
> But they rarely commented on the environmental factors that often
> drove people to these desperate measures, or weakened the losing
> opponents in the war.

Which also happens to be one the main points.

> In some cases the society just disappeared..

Nothing ever "just disappears". There are plenty of traces, and 
always very good reasons why some socities collapse, and some
don't. The book is worth reading for the lessons to us current

Eugen* Leitl <a href="http://leitl.org">leitl</a> http://leitl.org
ICBM: 48.07100, 11.36820            http://www.ativel.com
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