Encyclopedia > Easter Island

  Article Content

Easter Island

Easter Island (Spanish Isla de Pascua, Polynesian[?] Rapa Nui) is an island in the south Pacific Ocean, west and slightly north of Santiago, Chile and part of the territory of Chile. The island is approximately triangular, with the southwest tip located at approximately 27°10' S, 109°25' W, and is around 2000 kilometers from the next nearest inhabited island. The island is famous for its numerous prehistoric stone statues located along the coastlines.

The history of Easter Island

The history of Easter Island can be related by a reconstructed king list of Easter Island, complete with events and approximate dates since A.D. 400. Its current native population is of Polynesian descent. The island at one time supported a relatively advanced and complex civilization. The island was discovered by Europeans in 1722 by the Dutch navigator Jakob Roggeveen[?], on Easter Day. Roggeveen found only 400 inhabitants on the island, but it appears that there were as many as 10,000 of them in the past. The civilization of Easter Island had diminished drastically a few centuries before the arrival of the Dutch, due to the overpopulation, deforestation and exploitation of the extremely isolated island with limited natural resources. The island was annexed by Chile in 1888.


The monolithic stone heads on the island, called moai[?], are numerous (there are over 600 known) and spread over the entire island. Most of the moai were carved out of the rock at Rano Raraku, with nearly 400 moai in this vicinity in various stages of completion. The quarry there seems to have been abandoned suddenly, with half-carved statues left in the rock. Many of the completed moai were subsequently toppled by native islanders after construction ceased. The meaning of the moai is still unclear, and many theories surround the statues.

The most common theory is that the statues were carved by the Polynesian inhabitants of the islands about 500 years ago. They are thought to have been representations of deceased ancestors or perhaps important living personages, as well as family status symbols. They must have been extremely expensive to craft; not only would the actual carving of each statue potentially require years of effort, but they would then have to be hauled across the island to their final locations. It is not known exactly how these moai were moved, but the process almost certainly required wood.

Modern Easter Island has no trees to speak of. The island once possessed a forest of palm trees, but it is thought that the native Easter Islanders completely deforested the island in the process of constructing their statues, as well as fishing boats and other buildings. There is evidence that the disappearance of the island's trees coincided with the collapse of the Easter Island civilization; midden contents from this time period showed a sudden drop in fish and bird bones as the islanders lost the ability to construct fishing vessels and the birds lost their nesting sites. There is also some evidence of cannibalism on human remains around this time.

The small surviving population of Easter Island eventually developed new traditions to share the few remaining resources. The cult of the birdman established a competition where every year a representitive of each tribe, chosen by the leaders, would swim across the sea to Motu Nui[?], a nearby islet to search for the egg of the Sooty Tern[?]. The first to return with one would have control of the island's resources for the rest of the year. This tradition was still in existence at the time of their discovery by Europeans.

Rongo Rongo

There are tablets found on the island with mysterious script. The script, known as Rongo Rongo, has never been deciphered despite the work of generations of linguists. A Hungarian scholar and author of several books, Wilhelm or Guillaume de Hevesy[?], in 1932 called attention to the apparent similarities between some of the rongo-rongo characters of Easter Island and a script from India, collating dozens (at least 40) of them with the corresponding signs of the prehistoric script on seals from Mohenjo-daro of the Indus Valley. This comparison was re-published in later books, for example by Z.A. Simon (1984: 95). The rongo-rongo may mean peace-peace, and their texts may record peace treaty documents, possibly between the long ears and the conquering short ears.

External links

  • DMoz category (http://dmoz.org/Regional/South_America/Chile/Regions/Valpara%edso/Easter_Island/)
  • Spanish DMoz category (http://dmoz.org/World/Espa%f1ol/Pa%edses/Chile/Regiones/Valpara%edso/Isla_de_Pascua/)
  • Map of Easter Island (http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/islands_oceans_poles/easterisland.jpg) from the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection.
  • Pictures of Easter Island (http://www.chmouel.com/geeklog/gallery/gallery_individual.php?gallery=polynesia) from Chmouel Boudjnah photos travel's collection.

All Wikipedia text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

  Search Encyclopedia

Search over one million articles, find something about almost anything!
  Featured Article

... the clitoris and the vaginal opening. In the human male, the urethra is about 8 inches (200 mm) long and opens at the end of the penis. Medical problems of th ...

This page was created in 28.8 ms