Friday 5 April 2013

Easter Island

Easter Island aerial view courtesy

It is one of the most remote islands in the South Pacific.  Its nearest neighbour, Pitcairn Island, is 2000 miles away.  Its Polynesian name, Rapa Nui, means "Land's End".  Its English name, Easter Island, comes from the fact that it was discovered on Easter Sunday by Dutchman Jacob Roggeveen.  Its claim to fame is the collection of "moai", or statues, scattered over the island.

At one time there were at least 15,000 Rapa Nui Natives.  Overpopulation however, led to deforestation which led to a decrease in population.  By the time the Europeans arrived in 1722, their numbers had dwindled to 2000 to 3000.  European sailors and Peruvian slave traders brought foreign diseases with them which decimated the Rapa Nui people.  By 1877, their population had shrunk to 111.

Easter Island is known for its "moai", the collection of statues that dot the coastline.  The statues possess large heads, 3/5 the size of their bodies.  These statues were built between 1250 and 1500.  Easter Island is dotted with volcanoes and the moai are made from the volcanic rock of Rano Raraku.  They are the living faces of deified ancestors of the Rapa Nui.  While I don't agree with worshipping idols, I am fascinated with how the statues were built and transported.

Given that the statues stood 13 feet high and weighed 14 tons, how did the Rapa Nui move them from Rano Raraku to the coastline 14 miles away?  Different theories have developped as to how they accomplished this task.  One states that they laid the "moai" down on logs and slowly rolled them along the ancient roads.  Another theory states that they transported them upright and used ropes as pulleys.  Recently, Jo Ann Von Tilburg led an experiment which determined that it would have taken 70 men five days to roll each of the moai to their destination -- no small task.  Sadly, the construction of the statues contributed to the  downfall of near extinction of the Rapa Nui since the project depleted their natural resources.

Image courtesy 

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