27 Sep 2004

Deforestation played greater part in downfall of Easter Island culture

7:26 am on 27 September 2004

Fresh research on the early human settlement of Easter Island suggests environmental factors played a bigger part in the downfall of their culture than previously thought.

Research published in the journal, Nature, says the island's early Polynesian inhabitants brought about their own doom by cutting down all the trees.

A study of soil quality, humidity and nutrient-rich volcanic ash has put Easter Island in the third lowest position out of 69 Pacific islands.

The co-author of the study is Associate Professor Barry Rolett of Hawaii University.

"When we compare the environmental characteristics of Easter Island and other islands in the Pacific, we see that there are a number of things that make Easter Island particularly vulnerable to deforestation, so it's almost as if, you know, the deck was stacked against them; they had a lot of things going against them."

Associate Professor Rolett says Easter Island might have been very different today if early settlers hadn't let fires get out of control and instead kept the trees and harvested them for fruit.