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The sheep converted it into a true ecological wasteland, eliminating the remaining smaller trees and causing large-scale soil erosion – for which the early Easter Islanders would once again later be blamed by latter-day environmentalists. “Thus, despite the long history of disease, population collapse, external rule, and enslavement, the Rapanui have held on and thrived.

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Lest we fail to spot the parallel, he writes: “I have often asked myself, “What did the Easter Islander who cut down the last palm tree say while he was doing it? Hunt and Lipo did not set out to challenge the conventional story: their initial studies were intended merely to confirm it by providing some greater archaeological detail.Hunt and Lipo again: “For Rapa Nui, Fischer reports that of the approximately 1,500 Rapanui who were blackbirded to Peru, the vast majority died there.In the repatriation from South America to Polynesia, eighty-five of the survivors died at sea, leaving a mere dozen or so Rapanui who actually made it back home.Instead, visiting ships brought epidemics of new diseases which wiped out the majority of the population – with most of the remnants later carted off in slave raids.It is grimly ironic that Jared Diamond, of all people, missed – or misread – this more realistic version of history, given that it forms the central thesis for his earlier and much more convincing book ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’.

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