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In some island ecosystems (such as Easter Island) there is evidence of disastrous ecological collapse. Protein supply was always a problem on smaller islands, and most larger land animals were quickly eaten to extinction. Trade networks broke down, and interisland travel declined. “Archaeological Fieldwork on Norfolk Island.” The Prehistoric Archaeology of Norfolk Island, Southwest Pacific.
A few habitable Pacific islands were never found until Europeans entered the ocean – they rank as amongst the last places on earth discovered by humans. “No Meat on That Beautiful Shore: The Prehistoric Abandonment of Subtropical Polynesian Islands.” International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 11 (2000): 14-23. “In the Pacific there are two main groups of so-called mystery islands, i.e.
Humans had touched almost every speck in the Pacific, sailing on double-hulled canoes across trackless expanses in search of new homes.
In every sense, this was one of the most extraordinary migrations in human history.
Something drove these people to extinction, or to take their chances once again on the vast Pacific. “Domestic and Religious Structures in the Emily Bay Settlement Site, Norfolk Island.” The Prehistoric Archaeology of Norfolk Island, Southwest Pacific.
This is an enduring and fascinating puzzle for which there are no ready answers. “Discovery of a Prehistoric Habitation Site on Norfolk Island.” Journal of the Polynesian Society 105 (1996): 479-486.
Without trade and emigration, populations became stranded, resources were exhausted, warfare and violence erupted, and the population fell catastophically.
There is no clear evidence that this happened on the “mystery” islands, but it is clear that to sustain a population on a small island in profound isolation is extremely difficult. The last places to be reached were in the southwest Pacific, and in the far eastern Pacific. Settlers reached all the way to Easter Island, 2300 miles from the coast of South America, by about 700AD. “Petrologic Evaluation of Artifact Material from Norfolk Island.” The Prehistoric Archaeology of Norfolk Island. “The Human Femoral Specimen from the Sand Pit at Cemetery Bay.” The Prehistoric Archaeology of Norfolk Island. These include the Galapagos Islands, the Revillagigedos Archipelago, and the Juan Fernandez Islands off the coast of South America; Lord Howe Island in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand; and Midway Island, northwest of Hawaii. “Material Sources of Basalt and Obsidian Artifacts from a Prehistoric Settlement Site on Norfolk Island, South Pacific.” Archaeology in Oceania 32.1 (1997): 39-46. islands that were settled and then abandoned (or their populations died out) in prehistory.