Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui
, remains largely a mystery to scientists, historians, and archeologists even today. The origins of its original inhabitants, the meaning of the massive statues, and the means of creating the monolithic
stone objects all remain almost as shrouded in mystery as they were when Europeans
first discovered the island in 1722.
Easter Island is the most remote inhabited island on earth. The coast of Tahiti lies 2,500 miles away, Chile is 2,300 miles away, and the closest island, Pitcairn Island, is 1,400 miles away and is only sparsely populated
The Polynesians were capable of navigation by the stars, but still the feat is amazing. Nobody has navigated a canoe to Easter Island since the early settlers in 400 AD.
Equally amazing are the giant stone statues of stylized human heads and bodies, called moai. They range in height from just under 4 feet tall to an enormous 72 feet. ("El Gigante") The tallest standing moai is just under 33 feet tall and weighs around 80 tons. These statues are carved out of volcanic ash and nearly 900 of them litter the island landscape. Almost a third of them are upright and on pedestals, moved without the aid of modern machinery. All of the standing moai are facing away from the ocean, probably serving as an object of worship or respect.
Scientists still have only theorized on ways that the moai could have been moved and erected safely, and without damage to the statue itself. (If the thing falls, it's unlikely that severe damage won't be suffered)
About 2,000 people currently inhabit the island, almost all of whom live in Hanga Roa on the west coast. They subsist largely on cattle, sweet potatoes, sugarcane, maize, and potatos, but tourism recently has helped fuel the economy. Flights leave from Chile, and tourists can stay in one of several hotels on the island, which has few roads for transport.
Sources:Encyclopaedia Brittanica - http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?eu=32350&tocid=0
NOVA - www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/easter/