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ACTIVITY: Easter Island Mystery


Good critical thinkers need to be able to look at things from multiple perspectives. In this activity, you’ll look at a single event—the collapse of the population on an island—from different points of view. You should know right off the bat that the true reason for the collapse remains a total mystery! That said, historians and scientists have lots of hypotheses about why this island’s population fell so drastically. You’re going to try to make sense of what happened there, and you’ll do this using multiple perspectives, or as some may say, an interdisciplinary approach.


Moai at Rano Raraku, Easter Island, by Aurbina, Public Domain.
Look at the picture of Easter Island. In 1722, explorers happened upon this island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. When they arrived, they discovered over 800 giant statues and almost no people. This was strange, since the small number of people on the island couldn’t possibly have built these statues—it would have taken a much larger civilization. Think about Easter Island and consider the following questions: What kinds of events might have befallen the people of Easter Island? Could it have been disease, famine, or some other natural disaster?
Download the Easter Island Mystery Worksheet. Look carefully at the first three images:
  • Easter Island Geographic Map
  • Easter Island Statues
  • Easter Island Chart
It may not seem like these three pictures provide a lot of information, but you can make some fairly informed guesses about this place. Based on this information, can you:
  • Describe what pattern the population graph shows for this time period?
  • Brainstorm as many explanations as you can that would explain this pattern?
The human population, just like the population of any species, has been subject to periods of increase and decrease over time. Population size is constantly changing, but in some cases the increases and decreases have been significant, and historians and scientists have sought to make sense of these more dramatic changes. In this activity, you’ll look at the case of population change on Easter Island and see if you might be able to solve this mystery.
Now, read the article “What Happened on Easter Island?” and complete the table on the Easter Island Mystery Worksheet.

For Further Discussion

Choose one of the questions from the table and share your answers in the Questions Area below. Then, look at someone else’s answer and see if you can find the evidence that would support that person’s answer. If you can’t, ask them what evidence they were using to come up with their ideas.

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