23. Easter Island
"The metaphor is so obvious. Easter Island isolated in the Pacific Ocean - once the island got into trouble, there was no way they could get free. There was no other people from whom they could get help. In the same way that we on Planet Earth, if we ruin our own world, we won't be able to get help...." - Jared Diamond, Author
Easter Island (Rapa Nui: Rapa Nui, Spanish: Isla de Pascua) is a Polynesian island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeasternmost point of the Polynesian Triangle. Easter Island is famous for its 887 extant monumental statues, called moai, created by the early Rapa Nui people. In 1995, UNESCO named Easter Island a World Heritage Site, with much of the island protected within Rapa Nui National Park.
Polynesian people settled on Easter Island in the first millennium AD, and created a thriving culture, as evidenced by the moai and other artifacts. However, human activity, the introduction of the Polynesian rat and overpopulation led to gradual deforestation and extinction of natural resources, which caused the demise of the Rapa Nui civilization. By the time of European arrival in 1722, the island's population had dropped to 2,000-3,000 from a high of approximately 15,000 just a century earlier. In recent times the island has served as a warning of the cultural and environmental dangers of exploitation. Diseases carried by European sailors and Peruvian slave raiding of the 1860s further reduced the Rapa Nui population, down to 111 in 1877.
Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. The nearest inhabited land (50 residents) is Pitcairn Island at 2,075 kilometres , and the nearest continental point lies in central Chile, at 3,512 kilometres.
Easter Island is a special territory of Chile that was annexed in 1888. Administratively, it belongs to the Valparaíso Region and more specifically, is the only commune of the Province Isla de Pascua. According to the 2012 census, it has about 5,800 residents, of which some 60% are descendants of the aboriginal Rapa Nui.
The large stone statues, or moai, for which Easter Island is world-famous, were carved from 1100-1680 AD (rectified radio-carbon dates). A total of 887 monolithic stone statues have been inventoried on the island and in museum collections so far. Although often identified as "Easter Island heads", the statues have torsos, most of them ending at the top of the thighs, although a small number of them are complete, with the figures kneeling on bent knees with their hands over their stomachs. Some upright moai have become buried up to their necks by shifting soils.
Almost all moai were carved out of distinctive, compressed, easily worked solidified volcanic ash or tuff found at a single site inside the extinct volcano Rano Raraku. The native islanders who carved them used only stone hand chisels, mainly basalt toki, which lie in place all over the quarry. The stone chisels were sharpened by chipping off a new edge when dulled. The volcanic stone was first wetted to soften it before sculpting began, then again periodically during the process. While many teams worked on different statues at the same time, a single moai took a team of five or six men approximately one year to complete. Each statue represented the deceased head of a lineage.
Only a quarter of the statues were installed, while nearly half remained in the quarry at Rano Raraku and the rest sat elsewhere, probably on their way to final locations. The largest moai ever raised on a platform is known as "Paro". It weighs 82 tons and is 9.8 m long. Several other statues of similar weight were transported to several ahu on the North and South coasts.
Possibilities of how the statues were moved include employing a miro manga erua, a Y-shaped sledge with cross pieces, pulled with ropes made from the tough bark of the hau-hau tree, and tied around the statue's neck. Anywhere from 180 to 250 men were required for pulling, depending on the size of the moai. Some 50 of the statues were re-erected in modern times. One of the first was on Ahu Ature Huke in Anakena beach in 1958. It was raised using traditional methods during a Heyerdahl expedition.
A method supported by mounting evidence involved attaching ropes to the statue and rocking it, moving it forward as it rocked. This would fit the legend of the Mo'ai 'walking' to their final locations. This is suggested to have been possible by a team of far fewer than previously thought.
In 2011, a large moai statue was excavated from the ground, suggesting that the statues are much older and larger than previously thought.