Easter Island Facts

Easter Island is located in the South Pacific. It is quite isolated, being over 2,000 miles from the nearest populated areas of Tahiti or Chile. The island is famous for hundreds of stone sculptures.

The history of Easter Island

The origins of the settlers on Easter Island are not known. Some think they were Peruvian, while others believe in esoteric origins, such as travelers from the lost continent of Atlantis. However, many archeologists believe the island was settled by eastern Polynesians around A.D. 400. Twelve Easter Island skeletons were inspected in 1994 and found to have Polynesian DNA.

The legend of Easter Island's discovery tells that a Polynesian chief named Hotu Matu'a, or Great Parent, sailed to the island with his family. The islanders wrote in rongorongo script, which is the only known writing system in all of Oceania. The first settlers named the island Te Pito o te Henua, or the Navel of the World, and it is thought that the island population was as high at 9,000 in 1550. It was named Easter Island in 1722 by the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen.

The local language and people are called Rapa Nui, meaning Great Rapa, the name given to them by Tahitian sailors who traveled there in the 1860. The word "rapa" means "island" in their Polynesian language. Carving of the moai took place from 1400 to 1600. After that time, core samples of the soil show that the soil on the island eroded and depleted as forests gave out. There may have even been cannibalism.

Stone monoliths of Easter Island

The hundreds of stone monoliths on the island are called 'moai.' The stone statues are about 13 feet high and weigh 14 tons. They consist of human heads and a torso. All the figures appear to be male. Most of the moai are along the southeastern coastline. They are situated with their backs towards the sea. The moai are built on a mound or stone pedestal called an "ahu." The same word is used to identify a ceremonial site. The ahus that hold the moai are about four feet in height.

There is no written record that tells why the inhabitants carved these sculptures. Some archeologists think they are images of the ancestors or chiefs.

A survey by the archeologist Jo Anne Van Tilburg reported 887 monolithic statues on the island in 1989, with 397 still in the quarries where they were produced. Ninety-two moai lie waiting for transit outside the quarry at Rano Raraku.

The largest moai has been named "El Gigante" and is over 71 feet high, and weights 145 tons. Other stonework on the island, such as walls, are thought to resemble Andean workmanship. They used cement but carved the stones to fit closely to each other.

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