Where Is Easter Island?
Easter Island, one of
the most mysterious islands in the world, is in the South Pacific, 2,000 miles
west of Caldera in Chile and 1,000 miles east of Pitcairn, its nearest
inhabited neighbor. It was annexed by Chile in 1888. The island which is
volcanic in origin was discovered by the Dutch admiral Jacob Roggeveen on
Easter Sunday, 1722. It is 11 miles long and 15 miles wide.
Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. The nearest inhabited land (around 50 residents in 2013) is Pitcairn Island, 2,075 kilometres (1,289 mi) away; the nearest town with a population over 500 is Rikitea, on the island of Mangareva, 2,606 km (1,619 mi) away; the nearest continental point lies in central Chile, 3,512 kilometres (2,182 mi) away. Easter Island is considered part of Insular Chile.
It is believed that Easter Island’s Polynesian inhabitants arrived on Easter Island sometime near 1200 AD. They created a thriving and industrious culture, as evidenced by the island’s numerous enormous stone moai and other artifacts. However, land clearing for cultivation and the introduction of the Polynesian rat led to gradual deforestation. By the time of European arrival in 1722, the island’s population was estimated to be 2,000–3,000. European diseases, Peruvian slave raiding expeditions in the 1860s, and emigration to other islands, e.g. Tahiti, further depleted the population, reducing it to a low of 111 native inhabitants in 1877.
Chile annexed Easter Island in 1888 but in 1966, the Rapa Nui was granted Chilean citizenship. In 2007 the island gained the constitutional status of “special territory.” Administratively, it belongs to the Valparaíso Region, comprising a single commune of the Province Isla de Pascua. The 2017 Chilean census registered 7,750 people on the island, of whom 3,512 (45%) considered themselves Rapa Nui.
In 1995, UNESCO named Easter Island a World Heritage Site, with much of the island protected within Rapa Nui National Park. Easter Island is noted for its mysterious statues of remote and unknown origin, nearly 1,000 extant monumental statues, called moai, created by the early Rapa Nui people. These statues, consisting of giant heads facing inland, fringe the island’s coastline. They stand on huge ramparts or platforms which slope landwards, in some cases to a width of 250 feet. At the end of this sloping rampart there is a paved area.
There are some 260 of these platforms on the island and each one was designed to support between one and fifteen of the strange giant heads, carved from compressed volcanic earth. The heads have upturned faces tilted towards the sky, and long ears. They vary in height from 12 to 20 feet. At one time they were topped by huge hats or crowns between six and eight feet in diameter. These hats are made from a red volcanic material different from the material used for the heads themselves.
The island is full of
ancient curiosities including long, narrow boat-shaped houses flanked by stone
thicken huts. The inhabitants are descendants of Polynesian people who migrated
across the Pacific. There is a legend of a war between the “long-eared” people
and their “short-eared” attackers. The long-eared defenders of the islands were
said to have been burned in a vast earth oven, but the latest scientific
evidence suggests that the “earth oven” was in fact a vast defensive ditch.
Ashes in this ditch date from the 17th Century, only a short time before the
But the real truth about Easter Island and its mysterious statues will probably never be known until someone finds out how to read the curious sign language inscribed round the platforms. These signs, which are geometrical in form, are really symbols such as birds, plants and fishes. They may be like the “memory aids” of the ancient Aztecs, but experts believe they are an elementary form of writing.