Mysteries of the Easter Island moai and more

Mysteries of the Easter Island moai and more
Tourists among the statues at the Easter Island quarry Rano Raraku. (Millie Ball)

Would Mystery Island be a more apt name than Easter Island?

There are many controversies about the history and events on Easter Island. Among those who have researched various theories is James Grant-Peterkin, a Scot who moved to Easter Island 15 years ago and wrote "A Companion to Easter Island." Here are some of the answers, based on his book and other research, to frequently asked questions.


Who were the first settlers on Easter Island?

It's widely believed that settlers came from other Polynesian islands between 600 and 900, although Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl's 1947 expedition tried to prove South Americans were the first to arrive at Easter Island, 2,335 miles from Peru. About 5,700 people live on the island, which is owned by Chile.

Why and when were the moai carved?

When a chief died, his family commissioned a statue from the quarry and transported it to overlook his village and family. This is thought to have occurred between 1000 and 1600.

How were the moai moved?

That's the big question. Oral history says they walked. A 2012 National Geographic article described a theory that groups of men, using ropes and a rocking motion, moved the monoliths forward.

Why did moai carving stop?

Two theories, says Grant-Peterkin. One: Rival tribes knocked them down face-forward to bury the eyes, which, when inserted, were believed to give spirit to the moai and the energy that was conveyed to their people. Two: Islanders didn't believe in their powers anymore. In 1722, when Europeans arrived, the moai were upright; four years later, some had been toppled. The last standing moai was seen in 1838. Many were propped up and set on platforms in the 20th century.

Why are there no trees and little vegetation on Easter Island?

Islanders cut down palm trees to plant fields. But the major reason may be rats that stowed away on the canoes of Polynesians who settled here and ate the palm tree seeds.

Sources: "A Companion to Easter Island" and National Geographic, July 2012.