Easter Island (Rapa Nui: Rapa Nui, Spanish: Isla de Pascua) is a Polynesian island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeasternmost point of the Polynesian Triangle. Easter Island is famous for its 887 extant monumental statues, called moai, created by the early Rapa Nui people. In 1995, UNESCO named Easter Island a World Heritage Site, with much of the island protected within Rapa Nui National Park.
Polynesian people settled on Easter Island in the first millennium AD, and created a thriving culture, as evidenced by the moai and other artifacts. However, human activity, the introduction of the Polynesian rat and overpopulation led to gradual deforestation and extinction of natural resources, which caused the demise of the Rapa Nui civilization. By the time of European arrival in 1722, the island's population had dropped to 2,000–3,000 from a high of approximately 15,000 just a century earlier. Diseases carried by European sailors and Peruvianslave raiding of the 1860s further reduced the Rapa Nui population, down to 111 in 1877.
Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. The nearest inhabited land (50 residents) is Pitcairn Island 2,075 kilometres (1,289 mi) away, the nearest town with a population over 500 is Rikitea on island Mangareva 2,606 km (1,619 mi) away, and the nearest continental point lies in central Chile, 3,512 kilometres (2,182 mi) away.
Easter Island is a special territory of Chile that was annexed in 1888. Administratively, it belongs to the Valparaíso Region and more specifically, is the only commune of the Province Isla de Pascua. According to the 2012 census, it has about 5,800 residents, of which some 60% are descendants of the aboriginal Rapa Nui.
The large stone statues, or moai, for which Easter Island is famous, were carved in the period 1100–1680 CE (rectified radio-carbon dates). A total of 887 monolithic stone statues have been inventoried on the island and in museum collections so far. Although often identified as "Easter Island heads", the statues have torsos, most of them ending at the top of the thighs, although a small number are complete figures that kneel on bent knees with their hands over their stomachs. Some upright moai have become buried up to their necks by shifting soils.
Almost all (95%) moai were carved from compressed, easily worked solidified volcanic ash or tuff found at a single site on the side of the extinct volcano Rano Raraku. The native islanders who carved them used only stone hand chisels, mainly basalt toki, which lie in place all over the quarry. The stone chisels were sharpened by chipping off a new edge when dulled. The volcanic stone was first wetted to soften it before sculpting began, then again periodically during the process. While many teams worked on different statues at the same time, a single moai took a team of five or six men approximately a year to complete. Each statue represented the deceased head of a lineage.
Only a quarter of the statues were installed, while nearly half remained in the quarry at Rano Raraku and the rest sat elsewhere, presumably on their way to intended locations. The largest moai raised on a platform is known as "Paro". It weighs 82 tons and is 9.8 m (32.15 ft) long. Several other statues of similar weight were transported to several ahu on the North and South coasts.
Possible means by which the statues were moved include employment of a miro manga erua, a Y-shaped sledge with cross pieces, pulled with ropes made from the tough bark of the hau-hau tree, and tied around the statue's neck. Anywhere from 180 to 250 men were required for pulling, depending on the size of the moai. Some 50 of the statues were re-erected in modern times. One of the first was on Ahu Ature Huke in Anakena beach in 1958. It was raised using traditional methods during a Heyerdahl expedition. Another method that might have been used would be to attach ropes to the statue and rock it, tugging it forward as it rocked. This would fit the legend of the Mo'ai 'walking' to their final locations. This might have been managed by as few as 15 people. This is supported by the following evidence:
The name "Easter Island" was given by the island's first recorded European visitor, the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, who encountered it on Easter Sunday (5 April) 1722, while searching for Davis or David's island. Roggeveen named it Paasch-Eyland (18th century Dutch for "Easter Island"). The island's official Spanish name, Isla de Pascua, also means "Easter Island".
The current Polynesian name of the island, Rapa Nui "Big Rapa", was coined after the slave raids of the early 1860s, and refers to the island's topographic resemblance to the island of Rapa in the Bass Islands of theAustral Islands group. However Thor Heyerdahl argued that Rapa was the original name of Easter Island, and that Rapa Iti was named by refugees from there.
The phrase Te pito o te henua has been said to be the original name of the island since William Churchill (1912) gave it the romantic translation "Land's End" in his Voyage à l'Île de Pâques, published in 1877. William inquired about the phrase and was told that there were three te pito o te henua , these being the three capes (land's ends) of the island. He was unable to elicit a Polynesian name for the island itself, and concluded that there may not have been one.
According to Barthel (1974), oral tradition has it that the island was first named Te pito o te kainga a Hau Maka "The little piece of land of Hau Maka". However, there are two words pronounced pito in Rapa Nui, one meaning 'end' and one 'navel', and the phrase can thus also mean "the Navel of the World". This was apparently its actual meaning: Alphonse Pinart gave it the actual translation "the Navel of the World". Another name, Mata ki te rangi, means "Eyes looking to the sky".