Easter Island was one of the last islands in the Pacific to be colonised, somewhere between AD 900 and 1200: the date is currently the subject of a huge controversy – see my page on the dating. But in the centuries following the initial colonisation, the islanders erected hundreds of the fantastic statues that form one of the world’s most remarkable art forms.
It is also claimed to be the site of one of the world’s major ecological disasters. Before the arrival of the first colonists, the island was densely forested, as pollen analysis has revealed, but by the time that the first Europeans arrived in the 18th century, the island was treeless. The popular belief is that this was an ecological disaster caused by the islanders themselves, and that in their hurry to erect their statues, they recklessly cut down the trees to provide ropes, and that when the last tree was cut down, the erection of statues had to cease. However this view has more recently been challenged with the suggestion that it was not humans, but the rats that the humans inadvertently brought with them that ate the nuts that produced the trees and thus made the island treeless. The subject is currently under fierce debate.
There are two major sites to see on the island. There is the Quarry, where over 300 statues still remain, some of them still being carved, but others complete and waiting to be transported.
And then there is Orongo, the Birdman village, a most spectacular site on the rim of a volcano with superb views over the sea to some nearby islands. This appears to date to the post-statue era, when the various tribes on the island completed annually to see which tribe should be the ruler for the coming year.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, all the statues were pulled down by the native islanders, but subsequently a number have been re-erected, and there are now about half a dozen platforms where these can be seen. We visited most of them and I show photos of some of the more spectacular. And there are also a number of settlement sites of which Tahai and Orongo are the best preserved examples.
There is therefore a lot be seen, and I hope that these pages will give some idea of the amazing richness of the heritage to be found on the island
A note on terminology. Easter Island is called locally Rapa Nui, or Great Rapa. This is a comparatively new name, first recorded in the 1860s, but it is the one that the islanders prefer.
The native term for the statues is moai, which appears to be both singular and plural, and the word for the platforms on which they stand is ahu, and I tend to use these terms interchangeably.
Most of the pictures have been uploaded in a fairly large format. This means that they are sometimes a little slow to download, but if you click on them twice, they will come up in a full-page form. Note particularly the photo of the crater of the volcano at Orongo composed of three stitched-together photos.
Start with the Statues