As the first known European to land here, Roggeveen's arrival on Easter Island in 1722 gave the island the name we know it by today, though early Polynesian settlers had called it ‘Rapa Nui’.
The 887 extant behemoths or Moai (pronounced ‘mo-eye’) are some of the most iconic statues on the planet. Weighing around 13 tonnes with heights averaging 13 feet, it’s impressive to think that most of the Moai are said to have been carved out of volcanic rock by 11th-16th century Polynesian inhabitants. How and why these statues were constructed and moved across the rugged landscape of Easter Island is still shrouded in mystery.
Located 2,300 miles from Chile’s west coast and 2,500 miles east of Tahiti, Easter Island was formed by a succession of volcanic eruptions – the now extinct volcanoes form the hilly terrain and give the Moai their distinctive colouring. This tiny triangular-looking island is only 14 miles long and seven miles wide – about the size of Jersey.
Did you know?
- The ceremonial stages on which Moais are placed are called ‘ahus’. The oldest, Ahu Tahai, is believed to have been built around 690 AD. The same site on the island is home to three more.
- Tahai has a large, lone Moai.
- Ko Te Riku is the only Moai on the island with restored eyes (made out of cement, not the porous rock formed by concentrated volcanic ash) and has a pukao (topknot) on its head.
- Vai ‘Uri is a single ahu with five stone statues of differing sizes standing in a row (probably the most commonly seen in photographs).
- This area was restored during the 1960s and 1970s by American archaeologist William Mulloy, who was originally a member of Thor Heyerdahl’s 1955 Norwegian Archaeological Expedition.