The native name for the island is called Rapa Nui, but its called Easter Island due to Captain Cook finding the island on Easter Sunday in 1774. Archaeologists haven't agreed when the native people came to the island from other Polynesian islands. Some say as early as 300-400AD and others say between 700-800AD. The native people came in canoes from Polynesian islands, therefore bringing some of their traditional culture with them. But, since they were so isolated (the closest island over 1,000 miles away), their culture changed over the course of the years.
The second moai that we found. This was is toppled over and Jesse is investigating the surroundings. Most of the moai had fallen over by the time that missionaries, arriving in the 1800's, started to take over the island. The missionaries' accounts of the island are where a lot of the information about the culture comes from.
They divided the island in 12 different chiefdoms, where each chiefdom had a certain resource that was needed for the entire island. One cheifdom had the rock quarry where the heads were carved, one had the red rock quarry where the pukao (the red hats) were quarried, one had the highlands where most of the food was grown, etc.
The building of the moai started with ancestor worship. Each head was made in the likeness of a dead chief or another important person from the island. Each head took over a year for 5 or 6 people to make. The heads are carved out of a quarry called Rano Raraku, in the center of the island, then they are moved to their location around the coast, but facing inward. Some anthropologists believe that the moai are faced inward so that they are looking after their descendants still living on the island.
The building of the moai didn't last very long. The resources needed for such a massive building enterprise weren't sustainable on such a small island. Once the island was deforested, there was no way of transporting the heads to their proper place on the coast, so the ancestor worship was giving up. Jesse will explain the culture/religion that took its place in a later post.
Even today, with large areas of the island re-forested, the island isn't sustainable, especially with all the tourism that takes place. The soil is volcanic, since the island is a volcanic island, and the nutrients of the soil were depleted. When Captain Cook found the island in 1774, most of the population was starving and was only 10-15% of what it was when they were building the moai. Most of the food consumed today is brought in from Chile and therefore is very expensive.
So, now enough with the history, here are some of our pictures.
In the quarry where the moai were carved from. Jesse is being attacked by one moai in this picture. There are tons of moai still stuck in the mountain, awaiting their final place by the sea, which makes archaeologists debate about the cause and the problems the people had to make them just desert their religious beliefs.
The moai below is still stuck in the volcanic face of the mountain. This moai is also one of the biggest moai on the island. Its over 100 feet long.
There was a path along the volcano where the quarry is and it leads to a beautiful crater lake.