I grew up only knowing vague stereotypes about Easter Island – I never believed in that silly alien stuff, but I definitely had the narrative of “the people of this island vanished mysteriously and only left giant statues” in my head. However, there’s a lot less mystery and a lot more actual history around Rapa Nui / Easter Island. I’d recommend the above video on the decline of Rapa Nui, or the Our Fake History podcast on Easter Island I mentioned at the start of the month.
If the video is tl;dr, the actual answers to the “mysteries of Easter Island” tend to involve Occam’s Razor:
What happened to the people of Easter Island? They’re still there, there’s still indigenous Rapa Nui people living on the island, despite displacements, colonialism, and a loss of control over the land.
What caused the decline of Rapa Nui? While there were internal struggles before European contact, it was largely the same mix of colonization, disease, slave trading, and exploitation that affected many societies all over the world (and still affect them today).
Who built the moai? The people of Rapa Nui!
But how did they build them and move them? They carved most of the statue in the quarry, propped it upright, finished the rest, and then “walked” them to where they needed to go by rocking them back and forth with ropes. They’re recreated it in the modern era and it only takes a few dozen people, some ropes, and some teamwork.
So no aliens? Nope!