One might presume, based on what one knows about the ocean and its ample resources, that when living on an island, one would eat a significant amount of fish for one’s daily diet. After all, the island populations we know of today eat plenty of seafood, so why would we ever think otherwise?
Ah, but Easter Island is full of surprises. Rapa Nui—the island’s real name—was settled around 1200 A.D., and is located in the southeast Pacific. Most people know of this volcanic island from the large statues of human heads and torsos… but what about the people who lived there?
It’s thought that the islanders, upon first arriving at at the island, likely had a stowaway onboard—the Polynesian rat. Some previous research on the island’s ecology has suggested that this breed of rat was partially responsible for the deforestation of the island, due to its ability to breed very quickly under the right conditions.
But piles of rats also meant an ample supply of meat, which the islanders couldn’t exactly ignore. And according to research done on 41 sets of teeth from excavated burials, the islanders ate Polynesian rats as their main source or protein for several centuries.
These tasty little rats (if one is to believe the taste description in ethnographic accounts) were eaten alongside plenty of bananas, sweet potatoes, and chicken—none of which are, obviously, marine products!
The lack of seafood in the diet could have something to do with the island’s topography, because there are many dangerous cliffs and some environmental differences from one side of the island to the other. Between the steep cliffs and the cold waters, fish weren’t as abundant a resource as one might expect on a Polynesian island!
After all, if it’s easier to catch and eat a rat… why not? It probably tastes like chicken.