[Marxism] Rats, Europeans and Jared Diamond

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Jan 22 07:56:03 MST 2006

(Go to savageminds.org to read the numerous embedded links in this posting.)

Jan 2006
Rats and Europeans
Posted by Kerim under In the Press , Regions , Pacific

In September, I blogged about the decline of Easter Island, citing Benny 
Peiser’s critique of Jared Diamond’s Collapse. Although I cited the article 
approvingly, comments by Russil Wvong led me to reevaluate it. There were 
some errors regarding Diamond’s argument, and the journal in which it was 
published seems to have an anti-environmentalist axe to grind.

While not defending his article, Benny Peiser wrote an e-mail to alert me 
to a new study which casts doubt on Diamond’s thesis. USA Today reports 
that “rats and Europeans are likely to blame for the mysterious demise of 
Easter Island,” not simply deforestation and warfare as suggested by Diamond.

     anthropologist Terry Hunt of the University of Hawaii at Manoa first 
blames the Polynesian rat. The rats probably deforested the 66-square-mile 
island’s 16 million palm trees. “Palm tree seeds are filet mignon to rats,” 
Hunt says.

While USA Today focuses on rats, another article describes Hunt’s analysis 
of the European impact:

     While tribal warfare likely reduced the population of Easter 
Islanders, Hunt suggests that most of the decline probably was resulted 
from early 18th-century Dutch traders, who brought diseases and took slaves 
from the island. Research elsewhere indicates that “first contact” 
diseases—like typhus, influenza and smallpox—carry extremely high mortality 
rates, often exceeding 90%. The first traders to reach the island likely 
carried such diseases which would have rapidly spread among the islanders 
and decimated the population.

My own prejudices lead me to blame rats and Europeans for just about 
everything, so I’m inclined to trust Hunt’s research, but I’m sure this 
isn’t over

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