Mystery island

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 October, 2010, 12:00am

Easter Island is a tiny, isolated speck of land that sits all by itself in the vast South Pacific Ocean. For such a small place, it has a surprisingly large number of unanswered riddles that puzzle everyone - even the islanders

Alone in the sea

Easter Island is a place with many mysteries. It is all alone in the sea - 2,000 kilometres from the nearest human community. It is very small and shaped like a triangle. Even though it is tiny, it still manages to keep many scientists frustrated because they cannot solve its mysteries.

The first mystery

Nobody knows the island's history or who lived there first. Some researchers believe they were white people, while other say they were Polynesians. One researcher even wonders if the first people came from outer space.

The second mystery

Nobody knows how the very big stone carvings, called 'Moai', were made. Some of them are 12 metres high and very wide. They weigh about 80 tonnes. On their heads, some have round, red stone 'hats' - which weigh up to 12 tonnes. More than 800 statues, carved out of volcanic rock, are on the island. Half of them were never finished. Nobody knows how the island's people moved these statues; they stand in rows, so somebody had to move them. Some of the carvings have long ears while others have short ears. This led researchers to think two tribes lived on the island.

The third mystery

What happened on the island? About 10,000 people lived there at one point, but the population then dropped to around 100. Some researchers say this was because there wasn't enough food to feed them all. Others say the decline was caused when European sailors took islanders away as slaves. Many years later they returned some of the slaves who brought the smallpox virus to the island. The outbreak of the disease caused so many of the islanders to die, there weren't enough people to bury them.

The fourth mystery

Why are there no trees on the island? Researchers know there were trees at one time. Some think the islanders cut down the trees to use for firewood and boats.

The fifth mystery

Wooden boards with writing on them were found during the 19th century. These were hundreds of years old. The writing is called Rongorongo script. At one time the islanders were very advanced, with wood carvings, crafts, tattooing, music and dance among their traditions.

And finally

The island was named by the Dutch Admiral Jacob Roggeveen, who landed on Easter Day, 1722. The islanders are friendly and love to see tourists. You can fly there from Chile.

Now do this:

1 What are the stone carvings called?

a. Men

b. Moai

c. Monsters

2 Who gave Easter Island its name?

a. Thor Heyerdahl

b. Kon-Tiki

c. Admiral Jacob Roggeveen

3 What virus killed many of the islanders?

a. smallpox

b. chickenpox

c. swine flu