Easter Island

It is located in the southern Pacific Ocean, on the edge of the Polynesian Triangle in Oceania, at the southeasternmost point of the island. Moai are ancient monumental statues built by the Rapa Nui people that still exist in the thousands on the island. Rapa Nui National Park covers much of Easter Island, which is a World Heritage Site according to UNESCO.
Polynesian settlers reached the island at different times, according to experts. Despite the claims of many researchers that these people arrived around the year 800, data from a 2007 study shows their arrival was more likely around 1200. Many of the island’s enormous stone moai and other artifacts are evidence of the island’s thriving and industrious culture. The introduction of the Polynesian rat and land clearing for cultivation, however, led to gradual deforestation. A population of 2,000 to 3,000 people lived on the island at the time of the European arrival in 1722. Slavery expeditions to Peru in the 1860s, diseases brought by the Europeans, and emigration to Tahiti further eroded the population. By 1877, there were only 111 native residents on the island.

From oral traditions recorded in the 1860s by missionaries, the island originally had a strong class system: an ariki, or high chief, was in charge of nine clans, each with its own chief. As the eldest descendant from Hotu Matu’a, the legendary founder of the island, the high chief was the eldest male heir. A prominent part of the culture was the creation of massive moai statues, believed by some to be the remains of deified ancestors. National Geographic reports “Most scholars think the moai were carved to honor ancestors, chiefs, or important individuals. However, there is no written or oral history of the island, so we don’t know for sure.”

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