Easter Island

"In brief, the prehistory of Easter Island
is one of supreme accomplishment,
flourishing and civilization, followed
by environmental devastation and decline. "

"The islanders prospered due to these advantages, and a reflection of this is the religion which sprouted in their leisure, which had at its centerpiece the giant moai, or heads, that are the island's most distinctive feature today.

These moai, which the island is littered with, are supposed to have been depictions of ancestors, whose presence likely was considered a blessing or watchful safekeeping eye over each small village. The ruins of Rano Raraku crater, the stone quarry where scores if not hundreds of moai sit today, is a testament to how central these figures were to the islanders, and how their life revolved around these creations.

It has been suggested that their isolation from all other peoples fueled this outlet of trade and creativity -- lacking any other significant way to direct their skills and resources. The birdman culture (seen in petroglyphs), is an obvious testament to the islanders' fascination with the ability to leave their island for distant lands. "

However, as the population grew, so did pressures on the island's environment. Deforestation of the island's trees gradually increaesd, and as this main resource was depleted, the islanders would find it hard to continue making rope, canoes, and all the necessities to hunt and fish, and ultimately, support the culture that produced the giant stone figureheads.

Apparently, disagreements began to break out (with some violence) as confidence in the old religion was lost, and is reflected partly in the ruins of moai which were deliberately toppled by human hands. By the end of the glory of the Easter Island culture, the population had crashed in numbers, and the residents -- with little food or other ways to obtain sustenance -- resorted sometimes to cannibalism and a bare subsistence. Subsequent raids by powers such as Peru and Bolivia devastated the population even more, until only a few hundred native Rapa Nui were left by the last century.