Easter Island: More Than Just Stone Statues

By Bjørn Christian Tørrissen - Own work by uploader, http://bjornfree.com/galleries.html, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32666265
Easter Island moai at Ahu Tongariki (Image by Bjorn Christian Torrissen via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1722, a Dutch explorer became the first European to land on Easter Island.

Here are some things you may not have known about Easter Island.

It is located at the southeastern corner of the Polynesian Triangle, about 2,000 miles west of South America. It’s a special territory of Chile.

It’s best known for the large carved stone heads on the perimeter of the island. However, the statues, which are called moai, aren’t just heads: most of them include torsos down to the waists. The average height of the statues is about 13 feet tall, however, the largest is more than 32 feet tall.

Most of the statues are carved from compressed volcanic ash using stone chisels. They were carved between the years 1100 and 1680, according to carbon dating.

The moai were built by the Rapa Nui people, Polynesians who are believed to have settled the island between no earlier than 300 AD. One of the staples of the Rapa Nui diet was the sweet potato, which originated in South America. This indicates an early contact between South Americans and the Polynesians.

In 1722, Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen found the island on Easter Sunday, which is how the island came to have its name. Several other ships visited over the course of the next century. However the islanders became hostile to most attempts to land. The 1860s saw slave raiders kidnap half the island’s population and then the introduction of smallpox to the island when the survivors were returned. Tuberculosis then killed several islanders. By 1877 only 111 people lived on Easter Island. In 1888, the Chilean government bought the island, which it rented out as a sheep farm through 1953.

In 1966, the Rapa Nui people were allowed to inhabit the entire island and were given Chilean citizenship.

Today, the population of Easter Island is more than 6,000. The economy is largely tourism-based.

Our question: If Easter Island is the southeastern corner of the Polynesian triangle, where are the northern and southwestern corners?

Today is National Dandelion Day, Bell Bottoms Day and National Deep Dish Pizza Day.

It’s the birthday of educator and civil rights activist Booker T. Washington, actress Bette Davis, and actor Gregory Peck.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we will spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1981, the top song in the U.S. was “Rapture” by Blondie.

The No. 1 movie was “Nighthawks,” while the novel “The Covenant” by James A. Michener topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.


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