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Geography of Easter Island

Learn Geographic Facts About Easter Island

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Moai Statues of Easter Island

The moai statues of Easter Island. The moai are believed to represent status symbols of the different Easter Island tribes.

Adalberto Rios Szalay/Sexto Sol/Getty Images
Updated June 02, 2014

Easter Island, also called Rapa Nui, is a small island located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean that is considered a special territory of Chile. Easter Island is most famous for its large moai statues that were carved by native peoples between 1250 and 1500. The island is also considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site and much of the island's land belongs to the Rapa Nui National Park.

Easter Island has recently been in the news because many scientists and writers have used it as a metaphor for our planet. Easter Island's native population is believed to have overused its natural resources and collapsed. Some scientists and writers claim that global climate change and resource exploitation may lead to the planet collapsing as did the population on Easter Island. These claims however, are highly disputed.


The following is a list of the ten most important geographic facts to know about Easter Island:

1) Although scientists do not know for sure, many claim that human habitation of Easter Island began around 700-1100 C.E. Almost immediately upon its initial settlement the population of Easter Island began to grow and the island's inhabitants (Rapanui) began to build houses and moai statues. The moai are believed to represent status symbols of the different Easter Island tribes.

2) Because of Easter Island's small size of only 63 square miles (164 sq km) it quickly became overpopulated and its resources were rapidly depleted. When Europeans arrived on Easter Island between the late 1700s and early 1800s, it was reported that the moai were knocked down and the island seemed to have been a recent war-site.

3) Constant warfare between tribes, a lack of supplies and resources, disease, invasive species and the opening of the island to foreign slave trade eventually led to Easter Island's collapse by the 1860s.

4) In 1888, Easter Island was annexed by Chile. Use of the island by Chile varied but during the 1900s it was a sheep farm and was managed by the Chilean Navy. In 1966, the entire island was opened to the public and the remaining Rapanui people became citizens of Chile.

5) As of 2009, Easter Island had a population of 4,781. The official languages of the island are Spanish and Rapa Nui, while the main ethnic groups are Rapanui, European and Amerindian.

6) Because of its archaeological remains and its ability to help scientists study early human societies, Easter Island became a UNESCO World Heritage Site 1995.

7) Although it is still inhabited by humans, Easter Island is one of the world's most isolated islands. It is approximately 2,180 miles (3,510 km) west of Chile. Easter Island is also relatively small and has a maximum altitude of only 1,663 feet (507 meters). Easter Island also has no permanent source of freshwater.

8) Easter Island's climate is considered subtropical maritime. It has mild winters and year round cool temperatures and abundant precipitation. The lowest average July temperature on Easter Island is around 64°F (18°C) while its highest temperatures are in February and average about 82°F (28°C).

9) Like many Pacific Islands, the physical landscape of Easter Island is dominated by volcanic topography and it was formed geologically by three extinct volcanoes.

10) Easter Island is considered a distinct eco-region by ecologists. At the time of its initial colonization, the island is believed to have been dominated by large broadleaf forests and palm. Today however, Easter Island has very few trees and is mainly covered with grasses and shrubs.

To learn more about Easter Island visit Easter Island at Archaeology at About.com.

References:

Diamond, Jared. 2005. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Penguin Books: New York, New York.

"Easter Island." (March 13, 2010). Wikipedia. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_Island

"Rapa Nui National Park." (March 14, 2010). UNESCO World Heritage. Retrieved from: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/715

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