Tuesday, April 2, 2013

RAPA NUI: EASTER ISLAND


The mysterious Isla de Pascua (Easter Island) is one of the most isolated inhabited places in the world. A territory of Chile, the 163 square kilometer island is located 3,512 kilometers from the nearest point in South America. The closest island is Pitcairn Island, 2,075 kilometers away. Easter Island is most famous for the numerous human-like moai statues and other archaeological rock formations found on the island. It also serves as an example of the damaging effects of deforestation, drought and overuse of natural resources.

The island was settled by Polynesians some time between 700 to 1200 CE. It gets its name from Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, who discovered the island on Easter Sunday, April 5, 1722. The Polynesian name for the island, however, is Rapa Nui, or Big Rapa, named after the island of Rapa in the Bass Islands group which has the same general shape.

Easter Island is volcanic. Three large volcanoes give the island a somewhat triangular shape. The island is part of a volcanic chain that formed as the Nazca Plate floated over a mantle plume known as the Easter hotspot. A hotspot creates a string of islands and seamounts as a tectonic plate moves over the top of the mantle plume. The Hawaiian Islands is another example of an island chain formed by a hotspot.

The Easter Island moai statues were carved out of volcanic ash, or tuff from the Rano Raraku volcano. The inhabitants used hand tools and chisels to carve the 887 statues, which average about 4 meters tall. The largest, Paro, is 9.8 meters tall and weighs 74.3 metric tons. Almost half the statues still remain at the quarry. Mystery still surrounds the statues, as the people who carved them were nearly wiped out by famine from drought and soil erosion, war, disease, and slavery. When discovered in 1722, the estimated population of the island was around 4,000, and by 1887, just over 100 islanders remained. In recent times, the population has climbed back to nearly 4,000. Much of the history and traditions of the early inhabitants have been lost.


References:

http://www.eisp.org/120/

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/history-of-geology/2011/10/31/climate-overpopulation-environment-the-rapa-nui-debate/

http://petrology.oxfordjournals.org/content/38/6/785.full

http://archive.cyark.org/rapa-nui-info

See our past Earth Story article about Easter Island:
(November 27, 2012)

http://tinyurl.com/cpxcxrb

Image of a moai quarry on the slope of the Rano Raraku volcano, Easter Island courtesy of Rivi, Wikimedia commons

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rano_Raraku_quarry.jpg

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