The Rats of Easter Island

So, there is new evidence that explains the demise of the people who lived on Easter Island. It appears they didn’t die of a rampant disease or attack or anything quite so imminently dangerous against which they could have protected themselves. Or even an ancient alien attack. They didn’t leave Easter Island either.

They brought rats with them when they landed in their long boats. Human-powered boats from which they explored the vast seas around them. They landed on an island, apparently lush with trees & foliage, similar to the other ocean islands in the temperate region. Keeping with their times, they began to slash & burn the wooded island in order to clear an area for their primitive farming techniques.

It is beginning to look like, now, that they didn’t cut down the entire island’s vegetation. They just cut down a lot of it & let the rats do the rest. The species of rodent brought with them generally feasted upon the underground roots of trees & other plants, burrowing underground & destroying forests & crops alike to some small scale.

The anthropologists studying the remains of those left on Easter Island discovered something odd about the stomach contents of every single human inhabitant. Rat bones. They found rat bones or remains in every single human stomach. They also found some root vegetables & a few other common foods that would have barely grown in the salty soil that lacked the ability to hold nourishment or water after the trees were gone.

Here were all these people, forest-less & struggling to grow even basic crops, their long ships that had brought them to the island perhaps still intact. They must have been starving, persisting on the most basic of nourishment. Instead of looking to the sea, they looked inward, & began to eat the rats.

Those large statue heads, they face inward, by the way. They face into the island. Not as a warning to those approaching from the sea, but, perhaps, as a reflection of the attitudes of those left alive on the island.

Instead of leaving, or attempting to control the rats, or perhaps reducing their slash & burn farming methods, the people of Easter Island chose to continue as they were, as long as they were able, until they ate their last meal of rat & diminutive root & died.

I read this article on NPR about these people, & its author suggested that this speaks to the greater dangers of the ecological demise of the planet. That the lack of action following the continuing warnings of environmental scientists is perhaps just part of a human nature that we cannot overcome as a people.

When I reflect on these series of events & the seemingly avoidable decline of the people on Easter Island, I think instead about the poverty I see daily. Perhaps deeper than this, I have a feeling for the way that things have become & it is not a feeling of rightness.

Robert Krulwich/NPR

Our world is changing. The technologies & spread of information that give uniqueness & identity to our current world are different than ever before. We have tools to correct course & the science to support these tools. Science shows us a world that we can break down into more easily digested pieces & it shows us a truth that is beyond what we could possible “group-think” or see clearly through our haze of emotionally skewed human perspective.

Change. It is an exceedingly difficult concept for people, & not one that is easy to talk about. The smallest changes cause the largest arguments.

There is an entirely ecological angle that needs to be addressed when it comes to change. But change is everywhere. Social interaction, political power, corporate control. Changing a job, changing your daily routine, your food. Changing where you live or what you drive. Changing the brands of shoes you wear. Changing your life.

It is often easier to stay the course. It is often easier to continue, even when we know that what we continue to do, our current behavior, damages the foundation upon which we lay our most precious asset: our future.

When we look at the way that things continue to progress, along the lines that perhaps they have always progressed in our generation or even from previous generations to this one, do we embrace change? I see so many mistakes made that have resulted in problems with incredible proportion today. Global proporition.

Do we embrace change? Or do we eat the rats?

I suppose we get to decide.


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