Professor publishes controversial book on Easter Island discoveries

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Terry Hunt, (808) 956-7310
Professor, Anthropology
Posted: Jun 23, 2011

Generating controversy weeks ahead of its release, Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo’s story of scientific discovery presents revisionist theories about Easter Island. Hunt is Director of the Honors Program and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and Lipo is a Professor of Archaeology at California State University Long Beach. 
Their recently released book, THE STATUES THAT WALKED: Unraveling the Mystery of Easter Island (published by Free Press), explores why the inhabitants of Easter Island, the Rapanui, built hundreds of eerie monumental stone sculptures, called moai, and what caused the dramatic collapse of their society. The prevailing theory—endorsed by Diamond, Bahn, Flenley and others—describes Easter Island as the worst-case scenario of “ecocide,” with a culture so obsessed with its statue-making and so ruthless in decimating the island’s environment that it caused its own dramatic demise.
Initially when Hunt and Lipo began carrying out archaeological studies on the island in 2001, they fully expected to find evidence supporting these accounts. But making one stunning discovery after another—which they describe in a lively and fascinating narrative of the way the mystery unfolded—Hunt and Lipo uncovered a very different story. Their first major discovery—that the island was settled much later than previously thought—made major news when it was announced in 2006, from The New York Times to Fox News to USA Today.
Since then the authors have made a series of striking discoveries, now revealed in THE STATUES THAT WALKED, including:
  • The lush forest that once covered the island was not destroyed by the human inhabitants, but by an exploding population of rats (brought to the island either as stowaways or as a source of food).
  • Far from ravaging their island’s resources, the Rapanui were in fact remarkably careful stewards of their environment.
  • The popular portrayal of an island dominated by a strong central ruling authority, or torn apart by warring tribes, is wrong.
  • Building and placing the moai was not a burden on the culture, but instead a vital part of enabling  the culture to thrive against all odds.
  • The massive stone statues were surprisingly easy to move over great distances, due to an ingenious design that enabled a handful of men to “walk” them for many miles.
So what caused the collapse? Hunt and Lipo make an iron-clad case for a radically different answer: that the decline of Easter Island began with the first extended contact between the Rapanui and Europeans, starting in the 18th century.
Hunt has spent the past thirty-five years doing archaeological field research in the Pacific Islands, and his teaching and research efforts at Easter Island and elsewhere have been honored by University of Hawaiʻi Board of Regents Medals for both Excellence in Research and Excellence in Teaching.   
For more information on the book, contact Terry Hunt at