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What are the main points of the critique of Easter Island in Chapter 2 of Questioning...

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capima | Salutatorian

Posted October 6, 2013 at 11:10 PM via web

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What are the main points of the critique of Easter Island in Chapter 2 of Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire by Patricia A. McAnany and Norman Yoffee?

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K.P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted October 11, 2013 at 9:48 PM (Answer #1)

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McAnany and Yoffee's singular main point is that Jared Diamond's presentation in Collapse of the theory of Easter Island "ecocide" is a "myth" and not a viable theory. They use several kinds of evidence to prove their assertion. The main points that they cover in proving their assertion are:

  • expert opinion: e.g., biologists C. Skottsberg and John Flenley
  • later settlement date for Rapa Nui
  • "paleo-environmental and archaeological evidence" [listed following]:
  1. isolation of the location of Easter Island;
  2. strong, salty, damaging winds blowing across the island;
  3. no natural stream(s) on the island;
  4. well-drained soil (doesn't hold moisture) covering the island;
  5. droughts occurring on the island because of the winds and other climate conditions as Easter Island is at "twenty-seven degrees south ... just outside the tropics";
  6. Polynesian imported rats and chickens that upset the natural ecosystem balance as they ate from the palm trees;
  7. lack of abundant flora and fauna species: lake bed samples of large palm trees of the variety giant fubaea chiliensis, but no samples of pines or other heavy forestation trees

McAnany and Yoffee's contention is, essentially, that Jared Diamond accepted the 18th century supposition of French explorer La Perouse--who said essentially that the people of Easter Island had deliberately deforested their island due to ignorance about the necessity for large trees in the hydrological system (system of water evaporation, cloud formation, rain, stream run-off, natural irrigation)--then he presented it as a sound theory without acquiring new evidence that could either support it or dismantle it. McAnany and Yoffee suggest that Diamond's propagation of La Perouse's severely limited supposition, which Diamond calls "ecocide," is the propagation of a "myth," not of fact; they call it the "myth of ecocide."

Ecocide more fully explained is a cycle of deterioration that begins with a cycle of overexploitation of resources and overpopulation that ends in the destruction of an entire ecosystem. The steps are:

  1. overexploitation of soil and trees and other resources
  2. expanding population that overpopulates (expands its ecological footprint beyond the means of the ecosystem capital to support the population's needs)
  3. starvation resulting from overpopulation in an ecosystem with depleted resources
  4. "population crash, and a descent into cannibalism" (Diamond qtd in McAnany and Yoffee)

The encapsulation of McAnany and Yoffee's main point is the two questions they pose before concluding their second chapter. They ask the questions they suggest Diamond ought to have asked which are (1) whether human activity resulting in deforestation in fact led to ecological collapse on Easter Island and (2) whether collapse occurred prior to contact between Easter Island and Europeans, first initiated in 1722.

Did human recklessness, overexploitation, and over population lead to deforestation and ecological catastrophe? Did a collapse of ancient population and culture result from an ecological catastrophe before European contact in 1722 C.E.? (McAnany and Yoffee)

The real story here is one of human ingenuity and success that lasted more than 500 years on one of the world's most remote human outposts. (McAnany and Yoffee)

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