Easter Island

By Byron Perry

Easter Island is the most remote habitable strip of land in the world. The Juan Fernandez Islands is the nearest land, 1850 kilometres (1150 miles) to the east, while the nearest land to the west (the direction Polynesian colonists traveled from) is Pitcairn Island, 1921 kilometres (1200 miles) away. Despite these huge distances, Polynesian colonists settled the island around 1,200 AD, arriving with wooden canoes and stone tools with which they managed to build a complex and thriving civilisation. Over 1000 huge moai statues were carved and placed around the coast of the island. This required up to 86 tonne statues to be transported a maximum distance 18 kilometres (11 miles) from the Rano Raraku quarry where all the statues were carved. This was achieved purely with human muscle power, as the Rapa Nui had not discovered the wheel and had no domesticated animals except for chickens. However, by the time the Dutch arrived in 1722 the population had fallen from a peak of approximately 15,000 to 3,000. The moai had been toppled and the Rapa Nui had resorted to cannibalism. What happened? How could the civilisation fall without any contact with the world beyond the island?