Diamond and others counter that plenty of palm nuts on Easter Island escaped rat damage, that most plants on other islands survived rats introduced by Polynesians, and that more than 20 additional plant species went extinct on Rapa Nui. Moreover, people brought the rats, so even if rats destroyed the forest, human colonization was still to blame. Despite the forest loss, Hunt and Lipo argue that islanders were able to persist and thrive.


Archaeology shows how islanders adapted to Rapa Nui’s poor soil and windy weather by developing rock gardens to protect crop plants and nourish the soil. Hunt and Lipo contended that tools that previous researchers viewed as weapons were actually farm implements; lethal injuries were rare; and no evidence of battle or defensive fortresses was uncovered. Hunt, Lipo, and others also unearthed old roads and inferred how the famous statues were transported. It had been thought that a powerful central authority must have forced armies of laborers to roll them over countless palm logs, but Hunt and Lipo concluded that small numbers of people could have moved them by tilting and rocking them upright—much as we might move a refrigerator.


Indeed, the distribution of statues on the island suggested the work of family groups. Islanders had adapted to their resource-poor environment by becoming a peaceful and cooperative society, Hunt and Lipo maintained, with the statues providing a harmless outlet for competition over status and prestige.