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The Survival of Easter Island
Dwindling Resources and Cultural Resilience


  • Date Published: June 2015
  • availability: Temporarily unavailable - available from December 2022
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107027701

£ 84.99

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About the Authors
  • In this book, Jan J. Boersema reconstructs the ecological and cultural history of Easter Island and critiques the hitherto accepted theory of the collapse of its civilization. The collapse theory, advanced most recently by Jared Diamond and Clive Ponting, is based on the documented overexploitation of natural resources, particularly woodlands, on which Easter Island culture depended. Deforestation is said to have led to erosion, followed by hunger, conflict, and economic and cultural collapse. Drawing on scientific data and historical sources, including the shipping journals of the Dutch merchant who was the first European to visit the island in 1722, Boersema shows that deforestation did not in fact jeopardize food production and lead to starvation and violence. On the basis of historical and scientific evidence, Boersema demonstrates how Easter Island society responded to cultural and environmental change as it evolved and managed to survive.

    • Challenges the widely held collapse theory of Easter Island
    • Explores the very timely question of a culture's resilience in a changing environment
    • Includes 44 illustrations and four maps
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Jan J. Boersema's study demonstrates once more the 'collapse of the Easter Island society', commonly advocated by Jared Diamond, to be a myth based on shaky scientific ground. To the contrary, the Rapa Nui people adapted to the challenges of isolation in a marginal environment with remarkable resilience. This book, written for a large audience, is a must-read for everyone interested in the fascinating Isla de Pascua.' Morgan De Dapper, Past President, Royal Academy for Overseas Sciences, Belgium

    'In this book, Jan J. Boersema breaks with the consensus about an ecological and cultural crash on Easter Island. In place of this big collapse, he proves the adaptation of the Islanders to a new landscape. A salutary book that sets the record straight.' Nicolas Cauwe, Curator of Oceanic Antiquities, Royal Museums of Art, and Professor, Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium

    'In this new publication by Jan J. Boersema, the author questions whether the history of Easter Island holds a message for planet Earth and asks, 'What happened on Easter Island?' Readers will find much to ponder in this well-written book, from the ecology to the sustainability of life on a small and isolated island.' Georgia Lee, Easter Island Foundation

    'Boersema presents a convincing counter narrative about the supposed 'collapse' of Easter Island. He does a masterful job of weaving previous and contemporary scholarship on the island into his account, while adding his own research based on accounts of Dutch, Spanish, English and French explorers to the region in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries … This is a significant contribution to our understanding of how small scale societies interact with the biophysical environment. It is written by a researcher concerned with facts instead of hyperbole. Easter Island scholarship has experienced plenty of the latter, making Boersma's book a refreshing and welcome read.' John Richard Stepp, Economic Botany

    'The Survival of Easter Island – Dwindling Resources and Cultural Resilience by Jan J. Boersema is a must-read for anyone with a serious interest in the cultural and environmental history of Rapa Nui. Jan J. Boersema, who is Professor of Principles of Environmental Sciences at Leiden University, is known to have been a critic of the wildly popular 'collapse theory' for many years and presents here an impressive body of work once and for all disproving it … Jan J. Boersema is to be commended for presenting such a conclusive body of evidence …' Anette Kühlem, Rapa Nui Journal

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    Product details

    • Date Published: June 2015
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107027701
    • length: 308 pages
    • dimensions: 237 x 162 x 23 mm
    • weight: 0.65kg
    • contains: 44 b/w illus. 4 maps 1 table
    • availability: Temporarily unavailable - available from December 2022
  • Table of Contents

    1. Easter Island as an icon
    2. From the east or the west?
    3. The green past
    4. Culture appears, nature disappears
    5. Makemake, moai, and the tangata manu
    6. Resilience and sustainability
    7. Foreigners
    8. Christianization, sheep breeding, and research
    9. The earth and Easter Island: doom and destiny.

  • Author

    Jan J. Boersema, Universiteit Leiden
    Jan J. Boersema is Professor of Principles of Environmental Sciences at Leiden University. He is editor-in-chief of the Journal of Integrated Environmental Sciences and editor of the textbook Principles of Environmental Sciences (2009, with Lucas Reijnders).


    Diane Webb
    Diane Webb has translated numerous books and scholarly articles on historical and art-historical subjects. She was a member of the team that translated Vincent van Gogh: The Letters. In 2005 she was awarded the Vondel Prize for Dutch Translation.

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