I first read about Easter Island a few years ago and after seeing the documentary, 180 degrees South, I found myself asking the question “What actually happened to Easter Island?” Not only is the island remote, it also bears a mystery that may never be solved.
Easter Island, also known by its indigenous name Rapa Nui, is one of the most isolated places on Earth that is inhabited. (Foot 2006) It lies 2,300 miles from Chile in the South Pacific with the nearest inhabited island, of only about 50 people, 1,250 miles away. This triangular shaped island is home to 3 extinct volcanoes and stretches 15 miles in length and only 7.5 miles wide. It is also well known for its huge statues (moai) which were constructed by the native population more than 200 years ago.
Rapa Nui was settled between A.D. 400-900 by Polynesian people and according to archaeologist, was one of the last of many island groups in the Pacific inhabited by the Polynesian people. (Egan 2005) It is widely believed that the island was discovered by a group of Polynesian people in search of a new settlement. At this time, Rapa Nui was heavily forested and served as a colony for several clans or families. The clans began to use the volcanic quarries to build statues also called moai. The moai represented each clan and were typically modeled after figures or faces with some of these statues measuring 65 feet in length. By the 16th century over 600 statues had been erected and the population had grown to an estimated 10,000 people. As the population grew, the natural resources on the tiny island dwindled.
The first European to visit Rapa Nui was the Dutch admiral Jacob Roggeveen on Easter Sunday, 1722. (Foot 2006) He also gave the island the name Easter Island. What he found was a small society of about 3,000 people living on an island that had been almost completely deforested. They were living in huts and caves and eating primarily agricultural produce. A report from a 1770 Spanish expedition...