15 of the Moai on Easter Island.
Click on image for full size
Image Courtesy of the Wikipedia Commons

Easter Island

Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, is a volcanic island located in the Southeast Pacific Ocean. It was given the name "Easter Island" when a Dutch explorer visited the island on Easter Sunday in 1722. The island is a territory of Chile.

Easter Island is very isolated, located 3,600 km (2,237 miles) west of Chile and 3,200 km (2,000 miles) east of Tahiti. This small island (171 square km/66 square miles) is shaped like a triangle, with an extinct volcano at each corner. It contains high plateaus and craters surrounded by coastal bluffs. Ancient lava flows cover part of the island, creating a rough and broken surface. The only standing water found on the island is in the volcanic craters. Easter Island has a subtropical climate which is made cooler because an ocean current called the Humboldt current brings cool water to this part of the Pacific Ocean.

The island is famous for the many large stone statues created by the Rapa Nui people. The statues, called moai, were part of the ancestor worship practiced by the original inhabitants of the island. Over many years, they erected 887 moai out of volcanic rocks and placed most of them along the coastline of the island. The moai stand up to 20 meters (66 feet) tall! In the 1500s the Rapa Nui people shifted from creating moai to creating petroglyphs of the bird-man cult. In the late 1700s, the Rapa Nui people experienced a period of warfare between different groups on the island. Many of the moai fell over as a result of these wars. In the late 1800s, the Rapa Nui population was almost completely wiped out when slave traders from Peru raided the island. A small percentage of the Rapa Nui population survived the slave raids and exposure to European diseases. Approximately 2,300 Rapa Nui people live on Easter Island today.

Chile designated 40 percent of the island as a national park in 1935, and in 1996 UNESCO designated the island a World Heritage Site. Tourism makes up the main economic activity on Easter Island today.

Last modified September 18, 2008 by Becca Hatheway.

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

What is Climate?

Climate in your place on the globe is called regional climate. It is the average weather pattern in a place over more than thirty years, including the variations in seasons. To describe the regional climate...more

Surface Ocean Currents

The water at the ocean surface is moved primarily by winds. Large scale winds move in specific directions because they are affected by Earth’s spin and the Coriolis Effect. Because Earth spins constantly,...more

Makemake, Rapa Nui God of Fertility and Creator of Humanity

Makemake was the creator of humanity and the god of fertility in the mythology of the South Pacific island of Rapa Nui (also known as Easter Island). He was also the chief god of the bird-man cult, and...more

What is VOCALS?

What if you wanted to learn more about the climate system of a very large area such as the Southeast Pacific Ocean? What would be involved in studying how the oceans, land, and atmosphere interact? You...more

Easter Island

Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, is a volcanic island located in the Southeast Pacific Ocean. It was given the name "Easter Island" when a Dutch explorer visited the island on Easter Sunday in 1722....more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA