Over 1,200 miles from the nearest inhabited island and over 2,000 miles from Tahiti and Chile, Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. The name “Easter Island” was coined by a Dutch explorer who encountered the island on Easter Sunday in 1722.
The Polynesian name, Rapa Nui, is said to refer to its resemblance to the Island of Rapa in the Bass Islands, but some claim that Rapa was the original name given by settlers.
Uninhabited by humans for millions of years, it is believed that a group of seafarers, perhaps from the Marquesas, landed on Easter Island in 300 AD. With very few safe places to disembark, legend has it that King Hoto Matua landed a double-hulled canoe on Anakena Beach and founded the first settlement.
What draws more than 50,000 visitors each year are the 887 mystical moai statues carved by the island’s ancient inhabitants. The tallest statue is nearly 22 feet high and weighs 82 tons, and thus a mystery surrounds the methods that would’ve been used to
construct and transport these impressive monuments, built long before the benefit of modern machinery.
Almost half of the moai are still at the main quarry where the statues were carved. The quarry is filled with statues that were never completed, including the largest moai that, if completed, would have been 71 feet tall and weighed an estimated 270 tons.
The other half of the known statues were completed and moved across the island. No one is sure exactly how this miraculous feat was accomplished. Legends tell of people enlisting divine powers to command the statues to walk, while other theorists describe an intricate system using ropes, trees and human labor.
By 1868 all of the statues on the island had been toppled. Some accounts recall an island clan pushing a statue over, but others refer to “earth shaking,” and it is believed that an earthquake may have been responsible for the toppling of the statues. Today, because of preservation efforts, about 50 moai have been re-erected on their ceremonial sites.
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