Mysterious Easter Island
Located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, Easter Island is a Special Territory of the South American country Chile, following its annexation in 1888. Of its approximately 5,800 residents up to sixty percent are descendants of the aboriginal Rapa Nui who were occupying the island at the time it was annexed. It was the Rapa Nui who erected the 887 distinctive moai that Easter Island is renowned for, and which prompted UNESCO to name the Rapa Nui National Park, which incorporates most of the island, a World Heritage Site.
Easter Island is at the furthest southeastern point of the Polynesian islands and was settled by Polynesians in the first millennium AD. The moai and other artifacts reveal that they initially created a thriving culture, but overpopulation, deforestation and depletion of natural resources, exacerbated by the uncontrolled breeding of the Polynesian rat, led to a decline in the population. When Europeans arrived in 1722, the island's population had dropped from the initial 15,000 to around 2,000 to 3,000 people. Slave trade and diseases brought by invading sailors resulted in the numbers of indigenous Rapa Nui declining to 111 in 1877. The population slowly recovered, but much of the cultural knowledge, including the significance of the moai had been lost.
Research reveals that the monolithic human figures referred to by the Rapa Nui people as moai were made between 1250 and 1500. It appears that they were all made at the quarry called Rano Raraku, with more than half being moved to various locations around the island. Considering the size of the statues – some weighing up to 86 tons - this was a remarkable feat. Unfortunately, many of the moai were toppled during altercations between clans on the island. However, archeologists have set a number of the statues back in an upright position and they stand as a monument to a culture that almost died out, but was, to an extent, restored.
Easter Island is a popular, if somewhat off-the-beaten-track, destination where visitors can explore the rugged terrain and examine these enormous statues, while being received hospitably by indigenous Rapa Nui people.