Easter Island, home of the huge statues called moai, is a petite dot of volcanic matter in the South Pacific Ocean. Called by Chileans the Isla de Pascua, Easter Island is known as Rapanui by its population, today primarily newcomers from Chile and the Polynesian islands.
Original Settlement of Easter Island
Genetic research has shown that Easter Island was settled by about 40 Polynesians, who landed on the island ~700 AD and went on, undisturbed, for several centuries. During that time, the population grew, reaching a total population of perhaps some 10,000 at its height, ca 1000 AD. The original Easter Islanders were hunters and fishers, relying on the large variety of birds that made the island, covered at the time with a lush palm tree forest, their home.
The most striking feature of the island is the moai, over 900 large stone statues or megaliths of faces, between 6 and 33 feet high. Construction of the moai is thought to have begun ~AD 1000-1100 and ended ~AD 1680. Each was carved out of the Rano Raraku quarry, a volcanic crater on Rapanui. More than 300 unfinished moai are still in place there-the largest unfinished statue at Rano Raruku is over 60 feet tall. Moai were moved by the islanders distances of up to 10 miles to prepared sites all over the island, set upright and decorated with inlaid coral eyes and a 'pukao', a hat of red scoria.
Agriculture on Easter Island
Horticulture was being practiced on the island by AD 1300, evidenced by the remains of house gardens, horticultural fields and chicken houses. Crops were tended or grown in a mixed-crop, dry land production systems, growing yams, sweet potatoes, bottle gourd, sugar cane, taro and bananas. Lithic mulch was used to increase soil fertility; rock walls and stone circle planting pits helped protect the crops from wind and rain erosion as the deforestation cycle continued.
Easter Island Archaeology
Ongoing archaeological research about Easter Island concerns the reasons for the environmental degradation and the end of the society about 1500 AD. One study argues that a colonization of the island by the Pacific rat may have exacerbated the end of the palm trees; another says that climatic changes had an effect on the agricultural stability of the economy.
The dating of all events at Easter Island is under debate as well, with some researchers arguing the original colonization took place later, or that the birds and palm trees were gone as early as AD 900. Most argue that the major deforestation took place over a period of about 200 years; which 200 years seem to be the biggest question.
The precise manner in which the moai were transported across the island-dragged horizontally or walked upright-has also been debated. Both methods have been tried experimentally and were successful in erecting moai.