Lying 2,300 miles off the Chilean coast is Easter Island—the most isolated inhabited island on Earth, a historical and archaeological gem.
The longstanding mystery of its discovery and occupation is told by the thousands of ever-silent Moai, colossal figures carved from volcanic rock that decorate the landscape. Some of them stand in imposing rows while others have met a more unfortunate fate, knocked over and destroyed.
It appears the original settlers of this island were Polynesian, as is its native name, Rapa Nui. Although Dutch made landfall on Easter Day of 1722 (how the island gained its modern name), most of the population claims the ancestry of the original inhabitants, whose distinctive culture—the result of living in isolation from the outside world for centuries—is still reflected in the lifestyle today.
It is an easy day’s drive from Hanga Roa, the only populated town on the island, to find what Easter Island is best known for.
Rano Raraku is one such famous site where an impressive 70 Moai appear to have sprang up straight from the earth, the remains of a good 150 more lying in a volcanic crater nearby. How they were moved from this crater from which their rock is sourced is yet to be known.
There are a total 887 Moai statues that have been recorded, and they are believed to be more than 500 centuries old. And while scholars have pieced together some of the tragic history regarding the decay of the Rapa Nui culture, vital parts of the story like how these Moai were built, and why, are still missing.