Easter Island is a famous and very isolated island in the southeast Pacific Ocean. It is well-known for its giant stone statues, the moai, created sometime between the years 1000 and 1700 – likely towards the earlier portion of that range. These statues number 887, and at one point there were about 10 islanders for every statue, for an island population of 10,000 or so. The island’s total area is 63 square miles (163.6 km2). It is 2,075 km (1,290 miles) east of Pitcairn, the closest inhabited island, and 3,600 km (2,237 miles) west of continental Chile. Easter Island is also among the youngest inhabited territories on Earth.
Easter Island is often taken as a case study of civilizational collapse. In the 17th-18th century there was a drastic decline in civilization, during which the island’s forests were entirely depleted, boats could no longer be built, destroying the fishing industry. As trees are often the bedrock of stable, food-producing ecosystems, these foundations were destroyed, and many of the island’s denizens starved. There were also numerous civil wars that would have been extremely bloody. Archaeological evidence indicates that chickens and rats became the primary diet of the islanders, and there were even indications of cannibalism. By the time the Europeans arrived in 1722, there were barely 1,000 inhabitants on island.
Prior to the collapse of Easter Island’s civilization in the 17th century, there was a Golden Age, during which the two-ton moai statues were constructed. These iconic statues had eyes painted white and faced inland. The islanders lacked metal tools, and shaped the statues using only basalt stone tools. The quarry for the statue material all originated from one point on the island, and the statues were dragged to their locations by the use of large wooden frames. Given how few people there were on the island and how massive the statues are, conspiracy theorists have long speculated the denizens of Easter Island had special assistance from extraterrestrials, though no anthropologists take this very seriously.
Easter Island is also known for having its own natively invented system of script, currently undeciphered, called Rongorongo. This is one of the few examples of a writing system created ex nihilo, that is, without outside influence. The script is so enigmatic that decades of efforts to decode it have been fruitless, and scientists don’t even agree on whether it is truly writing. Although at one time there were hundreds of wooden tablets and staffs with Rongorongo writing, only 26 currently remain.