Geographically speaking, Easter Island is the most isolated place in the world. It is around 1,800 km to its nearest inhabited neighbour, the island of Pitcairn in the west, and no less than 3,600 km to Chile in the east. The island is only 24 km long and 11 km wide. The island was populated around 1,000 AD and European seafarers first visited it on Easter Day 1722.
In 1955-1956 Thor Heyerdahl led the first professional archaeological excavations of Easter Island. Over six months five archaeologists excavated stone platforms, dwellings, caves and new types of stone statues. Other cultural artefacts were also extensively documented.
The local population was actively consulted and participated in experiments to discover how the stone statues had been carved out, raised and transported.
Island is famous for its statues, called Moai. They were originally
placed on huge stone platforms that were built along the coast. Here
they stood looking inland over the country watching over the people.
The statues represented dead chieftains and are an example of ancestor
worship. All of the statues were carved out of a quarry in an extinct
volcano, Rano Raraku.
the steep cliffs along the coast of Easter Island there are large
open caves (Ana) used as overnight accommodation by fishermen or by
priests for special rituals. Further inland, caves with long, hidden
entrances were also used as dwellings during times of unrest when
people had to protect themselves from their enemies, and to store
valuable objects in. It was in these caves that Thor Heyerdahl, with
local assistance, found cave stones and other valuable objects. Three
caves have been recreated at the Kon-Tiki Museum for visitors to explore:
a coastal cave, a secret cave and a family cave.
In 1986-1988, Thor Heyerdahl and the Kon-Tiki Museum led a new archaeological
expedition to Easter Island, which discovered the earliest settlement
and the earliest temple. They also conducted experiments to find out
how the huge stone statues could have been moved from the island’s
interior to the coast.
The birdman, a mythological being, half human and half bird, can be found on both Easter Island and in several ancient South American cultures.
To Thor Heyerdahl this and the similarities between stone sculptures on Easter Island and in South America were indications that there had been cultural contact between the islands and the mainland.