Island of a Thousand Mysteries
A tiny windswept piece of land called Rapa Nui continues to captivate and mystify a curious world long after its “discovery” by the Dutch West India Company in 1722, on Easter Sunday. Surrounded by a million square miles of Pacific Ocean, it’s the world’s most remote inhabited island – over 1,200 miles from its nearest populated neighbor, Pitcairn Island. Called the “Navel of the World” by early settlers, Easter Island is an ancient open-air 50- square-mile museum of natural history, home to some of archaeology’s most valuable treasures. It is most often identified today with its famous moai, more than 600 huge, eerie, elongated stone figures that stare eyeless at the distant horizon. Many are 30 to 50 feet tall and weigh up to 250 tons. They were carved from the island’s volcanic tufa, transported for miles, then raised onto great stone altars called ahu.
Believed to date from somewhere between the 9th and 17th centuries A.D., these silent figures are best viewed outdoors in all their primitive splendor at Ahu Tongariki, the largest excavated and restored religious monument in Polynesia. Were they conceived and carved by Polynesian people who first landed on the island around A.D. 500, or by pre-Incan stone carvers from Peru? The answer remains elusive.