What do you think of when someone mentions Easter Island?
If you’re like me, you probably think of the large stone statues that have long been a subject of speculation and mystery.
Called moai, these monolithic representations were originally carved from solidified volcanic ash known as tuff. From the year 1000 through 1600, the Rapa Nui islanders engaged in carving and erecting 887 statues, the largest nearly 72 feet long. It wasn’t merely enough to craft the statues, however. A third were transported to various spots on the island and placed on ceremonial platforms known as ahu.
So how did a culture that ancient not only create such gargantuan statues, but move them as well? Some theorists would have us believe extraterrestrials were involved. Others speculate Easter Island may be the Lost Continent of Mu, a landmass that was once part of earth’s oceans but mysteriously vanished at the dawn of history.
Mythology aside, Easter Island is a harsh lesson on the perils of obsession and deforestation. Once a verdant paradise, graced by giant palms, the island was destroyed by its inhabitant’s preoccupation with moving the statues around the island.
Countless palm trees were razed, their trunks employed to transport the massive figures. With the obliteration of the trees, resources grew scarce as topsoil was washed into the sea, leaving no way to raise food or even build boats. Overpopulated, their once fertile utopia in ruins, the islanders embraced civil war and cannibalism. In the process they toppled the moai themselves. Those that stand today are the result of modern archeological efforts.
It’s sad to think a culture could destroy itself through a fixation that resulted in utter mania. What would lead a whole race of people to become so preoccupied with a single undertaking, to the exclusion of all else? Perhaps, more than space aliens and lost continents, that is the greatest mystery of Easter Island.
I think it would be a fascinating place to visit…to stand in the shadows of those monolithic statues, surrounded by the ghosts of a lost culture. What about you? Are there any lost civilizations—Mayans, Incas, Celts, Phoenicians, Vikings—that intrigue you?