Easter Island has been used as a cautionary tale — the inhabitants denuded the island of palm trees while wasting their resources on colossal religious statuary, and then destroyed themselves in an orgy of self-destructive wars. Only there are a few problems with that myth emerging.
It seems that the palm trees were demolished early in the colonization of the island…not by the people, but by rats that had hitchhiked to the island. The people of Rapa Nui adapted and had a stable agricultural system that allowed them to thrive, and what caused their population to collapse was not internal conflict, but external forces.
Throughout the 19th century, South American slave raids took away as much as half of the native population. By 1877, the Rapanui numbered just 111. Introduced disease, destruction of property and enforced migration by European traders further decimated the natives and lead to increased conflict among those remaining. Perhaps this, instead, was the warfare the ethnohistorical accounts refer to and what ultimately stopped the statue carving.
There’s a lesson here, all right. That lesson is that you should trust the hard work of serious anthropologists who do deep, evidence-based research, rather than the self-serving stories spread by colonial empires or the speculations of dilettantes.