Easter Island is a Chilean island located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean. It’s most widely known for the incredible stone statues – called moai – that were created and scattered across the island by its early inhabitants, the Rapa Nui. When the Polynesians first settled on the island between 700 and 1100 CE, they developed a thriving society of nearly 15,000 people. But it wasn’t until the first Europeans visited the island, under the direction of a Dutch explorer named Jacob Roggeveen, that the name Easter Island was adopted, as he first happened upon the mysterious island on Easter Sunday, April 5, 1722.
By the time that Europeans arrived on Easter Island, the Rapa Nui population had already dropped down to less than 3,000 people – one-fifth of what it had been at its height. And by 1877 – just over 150 years after their first contact with Europeans – only 111 Rapa Nui remained. What happened to this civilization? There are many theories as to why the population of the Rapa Nui community dropped so dramatically. Some have blamed environmental issues, while others believe that internal warfare was a contributing factor. However, new research has debunked many of the longstanding views about the “collapse” of one of the world’s most intriguing islands.