For millions of people in the world, Easter Island is instantly recognizable by the many enormous monolithic stone heads which dot the island. Located thousands of miles in the middle of the sea, the mysterious island continues to guard its secrets well. However, a recent discovery changed everything we thought we knew about the mystical place.
15. Easter Island Mysteries
Easter Island is located more than 2,300 miles of the coast of Chile. Its closest neighbor is the Pitcairn Islands, home to just 50 people who are mostly descendants of the famed Mutiny on the Bounty. Easter Island was settled by Polynesians, but little is understood about how the enormous heads were created, giving it an even bigger aura.
14. Unique in the World
There are over 1,000 of these huge statues that do not resemble anything else in the world. Perhaps the most amazing part of sculptures is that each one is monolithic, having been carved out of a single piece of stone. They have always been referred to as stone heads, but archeologists now have reason to amend their view of what they really are.
13. Rapa Nui
Easter Island is the English name for Rapa Nui, which is the name given to the island by Polynesians. The Polynesians have an amazing history of traveling thousands of miles through the sea in canoes. Their historians say that their ancestors arrived on Easter Island on two canoes. The statues are called maoi, and explanation for the statues is that they were meant to honor their ancestors.
12. Unanswered Questions
Although this explanation make sense, there is still so much we don’t know about them. How were they built? What were they made out of? And what happened to the obviously once-flourishing society that no longer exists on the island?
11. Theories Tested
Historians and archeologists came up with answers to these questions. In their theory, the population of the island quickly got out of control. With a bigger population and dwindling resources, the story goes, the people started to fight amongst themselves. They were supposed to be highly warlike. Although this is an unsatisfactory theory, researchers felt that something dramatic must have happened to end the civilization that produced the moai.
Over the years pseudoscience and conspiracy theories have flourished. This includes the ever-popular theory that ancient aliens built the moai and contributed to the culture. Some people even believe that aliens then departed the island on aircraft.
9. Incredible Digs
Scientists and researchers knew there was much more to be learned, however, so they collaborated on a major project. In 1982 archeologist Jo Anne Van Tilburg founded the Easter Island Statue Project (EISP) Co-director Cristián Arévalo Pakarati joined her in in 2000. Together they have embarked on the longest single international study of Rapa Nui. Of course a major part of their research is understanding the sculptures. But what they found blew their minds.
8. Giant Bodies
In 2017, the island granted the group permission to excavate the ground around the moai. Much to their surprise, the heads actually sit atop giant bodies. Some statues are as tall as 70 feet. The famous heads of Easter Island were actually bodies the entire time.
7. Amazing Body Carvings
The bodies are incredibly intricate, with detailed carvings that confirm many of the cultural and religious practices of the Polynesians. The carvings even include astrology symbols, religious ideas and the names of important ancestors and artists.
6. Sophisticated Society
According to Dale Simpson, Jr., one of the lead researchers, “Ancient Rapa Nui had chiefs, priests, and guilds of workers who fished, farmed, and made the moai. There was a certain level of sociopolitical organization that was needed to carve almost a thousand statues.”
5. Tools Are the Key
Simultaneously, the research team finally found 1,600 tools used to make the moai. They were made from basalt and another dark volcanic rock. This turned out to be highly important. Early analysis of 17 of the tools, which are called toki, revealed that they were made from the same quarry. Why is this significant?
4. One Community
There are three quarries on the island, but only one has basalt. This blows a hole in the theory that the people on the island turn on one another and wiped each other out in a giant war. The moai are found all over the island, and it appears that no one group had a monopoly on the basalt quarry.
3. An Advanced Culture
For the Rapa Nui to collect raw materials from just one quarry to make toki, then they had to be living in cooperation, not at war. This again confirms the idea that the culture was highly evolved and advanced. But there are still many questions left to answer.
2. Many Questions Left
For example, if the people on the island did not massacre each other, where did they all go? It is early days, but scientists are testing new theories. One idea is that there were European or other colonists who enslaved the population or made them part of the slave trade. Scientists admit that they need many years of study to find more conclusions.
1. Solving Mysteries
There are still a few Rapa Nui living on the island. They have deep pride in their culture’s history. With their collaboration with scientists, maybe the mysteries of Easter Island will finally be solved in this century.