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History of Easter Island

The Dutch explorer Jakob Roggeveen arrived at the island on April 5th 1722, Easter Day, which gave rise to its name; (Rapa-Nui is the Polynesian name).
The island was annexed by the Chilean government in 1888, when an area on the west coast was reserved for the indigenous population, and the rest of the land was used for grazing sheep and cattle.

Isla de Pascua is important for its archaeological discoveries: it is not only the Pacific island with the greatest quantity of megaliths, it is also the only source of proof for the existence of a writing system in Polynesia.

Very little is known about the people who made the megaliths and carved the wooden tablets. Some people believe that they settled in Isla de Pascua approximately eighteen centuries ago, however other scholars maintain that they arrived more recently. The archaeological and botanical indications suggest that the oldest inhabitants of Isla de Pascua were of South American origin.

It is thought that the ancestors of the present day Polynesian population arrived in Isla de Pascua in canoes from the Marquesas islands, killed the primitive inhabitants of the island and took control of it. Many archaeologists believe that when the island was invaded, there already existed some six hundred of the moai, the statues carved in rock which have made the island famous, and that the majority of these were destroyed by the Polynesians during a period of warfare.

The biggest stone monuments on the island are enormous platforms dug into the ground which served as sanctuaries (ahu), on which a number of moai were placed in line. These ahu are usually found on cliff-tops from which there is a view of the sea, and are constructed of blocks of stone joined without mortar. There are usually four to six statues on the platforms, although on one of the ahu, Tongariki, there are fifteen. Individual or collective burial chambers have been found underneath many of them.

There are approximately one hundred moai left on the island, carved on the slopes of a volcano, and varying between three and twelve meters high. They are carved of toba (volcanic agglomerate) and represent enormous heads with extended noses and ears. The stone for the statues was extracted from the crater of Rano Raraku, where explorers found an immense uncompleted statue 21 meters long. Many of the statues on the embedded platforms wear cylindrical crowns of red toba weighing up to 27 tons.

Hidden caves have been found in the course of the excavations, containing the remains of wooden tablets and images. The fine, stylized engravings of the tablets appear to be a pictorial writing system.

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