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The wonders of Easter Island feature in Treasures: Adventures in Archaeology. 

Easter Island, in the Pacific Ocean, is the most isolated inhabited island; its closest neighbour being over 1,200 miles away.  The first inhabitants of Easter Island were explorers who sailed from the Polynesian islands to the west.  There is still a debate as to when they first arrived but they would have been settled by AD 1100 or 1200.  Over the next several centuries the Rapa Nui, as the island and the people were known, created the iconic moai statues out of the volcanic rock.  It wasn’t until 1722 when the first recorded Europeans visited that the island received the name we all know it by today.  Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen arrived to the island on Easter Sunday in 1722 and thought what better name for an island than Easter, or more correctly Paaseiland in Dutch.  Today, Easter Island is part of Chile and is officially referred to as Isla de Pascua.

Easter Island moai (by Mary Davis)

 

The Rapa Nui created almost 900 statues during their centuries of isolation from the rest of the world.  There was a central quarry and it appears that the statues were to line the coast of the island.  Despite the large number, only a quarter were erected on stone platforms along the coast.  About half of the statues never left the quarry and others look as if they were left along the side of the paths towards the coastal areas.  The statues ranged in size, the largest being 32 feet tall and weighing 82 tons. 

Easter Island moai (by Mary Davis)

It wasn't until the early 20th century that historians and archaeologists first arrived to study the enigmatic statues.  They wanted to know what the moai symbolised and how they were moved.  Since there is no written record to shed light on the motivation behind the statues, archaeologists had to look to the more recent Rapa Nui culture.  Like many other civilisations, worship of ancestors was part of the islanders' culture.  Most agree that the moai were probably symbols of important ancestors and that the erecting of the statues would ensure luck or success.  In trying to understand how these massive moai were transported around the island, the most obvious theory seemed to be that they used logs and a sledge to roll them.  This was a technique thought to have been used to move the stones at Stonehenge and the blocks for the Pyramids.  However, this theory has been challenged because it would have required hundreds of people to operate the sledge and logs and the population of the island appears to have been always rather small.  According to Rapa Nui tradition, the statues walked to their final resting place.   Archaeologists recently experimented with this theory using a replica statue.  By tying ropes around the head and rocking it back and forth it was possible to move the statue forward; almost like it was walking!

Easter Island moai in Rano Raraku quarry (by Mary Davis)

 

Jeannette Rose Marxen

Student Placement

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