Dr Croucher, whose research is funded by the British Academy, added: “There is a growing body of opinion which says history has been unkind to the Easter Islanders – and my research confirms and underlines that.
“Rather than a story of self-inflicted deprivation, I agree with the view that substantial blame has to rest with Western contact, ever since Easter Island’s first sighting by Jacob Roggeveen in 1722.
“Visitors brought disease, pests and slavery, resulting in the tragic demise of the local population and culture.
“There is little archaeological evidence to support the history of internal warfare and collapse before contact with the outside world.”
Easter Island’s 19th Century history is a sad one: slave raids in 1862 reduced the Island’s population A few islanders survived slavery and were returned home, bringing with them small pox and other diseases.
The missionaries converted the remaining population to Christianity, encouraging them to abandon their traditional beliefs.
Even then, several hundred inhabitants were driven off the island to work on sugar plantations in Tahiti. By 1877, a population of just 110 people was recorded.