Easter Island is a Chilean island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeasternmost point of the Polynesian Triangle. It is famous for its 887 extant monumental statues, called moai, created by the early Rapa Nui people. As a territory of Chile, it lies far off in the Pacific Ocean, roughly halfway to Tahiti. It is most famous for its enigmatic giant stone statues, built centuries ago, which reflect the history of the dramatic rise and fall of the most isolated Polynesian culture.
In 1995, UNESCO named Easter Island a World Heritage Site, with much of the island protected within Rapa Nui National Park. Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. The nearest inhabited land is Pitcairn Island, 2,075 kilometers away. Easter Island is a special territory of Chile that was annexed in 1888.
History of Easter Island
Ever since Thor Heyerdahl and a small party of adventurers sailed their raft from South America to the Tuamotu Islands, far to the north of Easter Island, a controversy has raged over the origin of the islanders. Polynesian people most likely settled on Easter Island sometime between 700 and 1100 CE and created a thriving and industrious culture as evidenced by the island’s numerous enormous stone moai and other artifacts.
In brief, the prehistory of Easter Island is one of supreme accomplishment, flourishing and civilization, followed by environmental devastation and decline. Rather than being inhabited by mistake or chance, evidence has suggested that Easter Island was colonized deliberately by large boats with many settlers — a remarkable feat gave the distance of Easter Island from any other land in the Pacific Ocean.
Archaeological evidence shows that the island was covered in trees of various sorts, including the largest palm tree species in the world, whose bark and wood furnished the natives with cloth, rope, and canoes. A mild climate favored an easy life, and abundant waters yielded fish and oysters. The islanders prospered due to these advantages, and a reflection of this is the religion which sprouted in their leisure, which had at its centerpiece the giant moai, or heads, that are the island’s most distinctive feature today. These moai, which the island is littered with, are supposed to have been depictions of ancestors, whose presence likely was considered a blessing or watchful safekeeping eye over each small village.
However, as the population grew, so did pressures on the island’s environment. Deforestation of the island’s trees gradually increased, and as this main resource was depleted. By the end of the glory of the Easter Island culture, the population had crashed in numbers, and the residents — with little food or other ways to obtain sustenance — resorted sometimes to cannibalism and a bare subsistence.