Easter Island is a remote, inhabited island in the Pacific Ocean. It is famous for the hundreds of giant stone heads that dot the landscape. For centuries, historians, geologists, archaeologists and scientists have been fascinated by these statues. If the moai of Rapa Nui intrigue you too, here are some of the most interesting facts about Easter Island.
7 Interesting Facts about Easter Island
1. Easter Island is a special territory of Chile
Easter Island is a special territory of Chile in the southeastern Pacific Ocean. It’s 2,300 miles (3,700km) west of Chile and 2,500 miles (4,023km) east of Tahiti. It takes fives hours to fly to Easter Island from Santiago in Chile and seven hours from Tahiti. The census of 2017 put the population of the island at 7,750.
2. Easter Island has many names
Dutch admiral Jacob Roggeveen, the island’s first recorded European visitor, landed on the island on 5 April 1722, Easter Sunday. He named the island ‘Paasch-Eyland’ (Easter Island in Dutch) in tribute. However, the island has many different names. Its indigenous name is ‘Rapa Nui’ (Great Rapa). Rapa Nui are also the indigenous Polynesian people of Easter Island. The original Polynesian name for Easter Island is ‘Te Pito O Te Henua’, meaning ‘The World’s Navel’.
3. There are nearly 900 Easter Island statues
Easter Island is famous for its moʻai, or moai, which means ‘statue’ in the Rapa Nui language. The Rapa Nui people carved these enormous faces between the years 1250 and 1500. Some 887 moai adorn Easter Island and they are all in various stages of construction. It is quite likely that there are more underground just waiting to be discovered. The Rapa Nui carved most of the statues from tuff, the solidified volcanic ash of the Rano Raraku volcano. Some carved the statues out of basalt and scoria, which are also volcanic rocks.
4. The Easter Island heads have bodies
People originally called the statues the Easter Island heads, however, in 1914, archaeologists discovered the statues have bodies. The moai range from 3 to 11 meters (10 to 36 feet) tall, with some weighing as much as 82 tonnes (180,779 pounds). Nobody is quite sure how the islanders moved them.
5. The moai represent the spirits of ancestors
Scientists believe the moai represent the spirits of great ancestors. The Rapa Nui believe that the spirit of that person watches over the tribe and brings good fortune. All the statues face inward away from the coastline, which apparently symbolises protection for everyone.
6. Rapa Nui National Park is a World Heritage Site
Originally, there were thousands of moai but collectors stole many of them. Thankfully, UNESCO declared the Rapa Nui National Park a World Heritage Site in 1995, which therefore gave the moai protected status. You can find moai in museums all over the world, for instance, the Louvre in Paris and the British Museum in London. The British Museum has a moai called Hoa Hakananai’a, which means ‘lost or stolen friend’. The people of Easter Island asked the museum to return the moai to Rapa Nui.
7. Rapa Nui National Park has many archaeological sites
Apart from the moai, the Rapa Nui National Park also contains other archaeological sites. There are thousands of structures, for instance, sites relating to agriculture, funerals and housing and over 300 ceremonial platforms.