Photos: On this day – April 5, 1722 – The Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen discovers Easter Island
Polynesian people settled on Easter Island in the first millenium CE, and created a thriving culture, as evidenced by the moai and other artifacts. Archeological record shows that, by the time of the initial settlement, the island was home to many species of trees, including at least three species which grew up to 50 feet or more: Paschalococos – possibly the largest palm trees in the world at the time, Alphitonia zizyphoides, and Elaeocarpus rarotongensis, as well as at least six species of native land birds.
By the time of European arrival in 1722, 21 species of trees and all species of land birds went extinct through some combination of overharvesting/overhunting, rat predation, and climate change, the island was largely deforested, and it did not have any trees more than 10 feet tall. Loss of large trees meant that residents were no longer able to build seaworthy vessels, significantly diminishing their fishing abilities. This was further exacerbated by the loss of land birds and the collapse in seabird populations. By the 18th century, residents of the island were largely sustained by farming, with domestic chickens as the primary source of protein.
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