Mysterious and exciting, Easter Island (also known as Rapa Nui and Isla de Pascua) is
the most isolated inhabited island of our planet. It lies in the South Pacific, 3,600 km. (2,037 miles)
west from continental Chile.
Easter Island is covered with 887 huge monolithic stone statues, called moai. The largest moai weigh about 84 tons - that's as much as a herd of 12 seven-ton elephants! The oldest known traditional name of the island is Te Pito or Te Henua, meaning ‘The Center (or Navel) of the World'.
The large stone statues, or moai, for which Easter Island is world famous were carved during
a relatively short and intense burst of creative and productive megalithic activity. Archeologists
now estimate that ceremonial site construction and statue carving took place largely between
about AD 1100 and 1600 and may have consumed up to 25% of island-wide resources.
According to recent archaeological research 887 monolithic stone statues, called moai, have been inventoried on the island and in museum collections. This number is not final, however. The on-going statue survey continues to turn up new fragments, and mapping in Rano Raraku quarry has documented more unfinished statues than previously known. In addition, some statues incorporated into ceremonial site construction surely remain to be uncovered.
Although often identified as "heads", the statues actually are heads and complete torsos. Some upright moai, however, have become buried up to their necks by shifting soils. Most moai were carved out of a distinctive, compressed, easily-worked volcanic ash or tuff found at a single site called Rano Raraku. The quarry there seems to have been abandoned abruptly, with half-carved statues left in the rock. However, on closer examination the pattern of use and abandonment is more complex.
The most widely-accepted theory is that the statues were carved by the ancestors of the modern Polynesian inhabitants (Rapanui) at a time when the island was largely planted with trees and resources were plentiful, supporting a population of at least 10,000-15,000 native Rapanui. The majority of the statues were still standing when Jacob Roggeveen arrived in 1722. Captain James Cook also saw many standing statues when he landed on the island in 1774.
It is unclear why the islanders erected the moai and what their function was. A mystery to cherish all the way.
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